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Gaza death toll approaches 20,000, authorities say

20 December 2023

Latin Patriarchate

Aftermath of the attack on the Holy Family compound, a photo posted online by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem

Aftermath of the attack on the Holy Family compound, a photo posted online by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem

THE two women who died at the Holy Family Church Compound in Gaza on Sunday take the total number of people killed during ongoing military action in the area since 7 October to at least 19,453, health authorities report.

Asked about events at the church in an LBC interview on Tuesday, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, said: “There are no churches in Gaza; so I’m not quite sure where the report is talking about. . . Unfortunately there are no Christians because they were driven out by Hamas.”

Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Peter Williams, sought to correct the Deputy Mayor’s comments, noting that “there remains a small, yet highly visible, Christian community in Gaza, which is very notably engaged in the provision of Gaza’s healthcare facilities.”

He also raised concerns about Al Ahli, the Anglican hospital in northern Gaza. On Monday, the Chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Canon Don Binder, reported that the IDF had destroyed the front wall of the hospital, confirmed by the UN to be the only partially functional hospital in north Gaza. It had “detained most of the staff there”, he wrote in an update on social media.

“They left two junior doctors, four nurses, and two janitors to tend to over one hundred seriously wounded patients. All with no running water and no electricity. An IDF tank is currently parked on the rubble of the hospital’s entry wall, blocking all ingress and egress.”

In the House of Lords, Bishop Williams said: “While I recognise the right of Israel to pursue its legitimate military objectives, I ask the Minister to ensure that His Majesty’s Government make clear to the Government of Israel that the targeting of religious buildings, their people and the healthcare facilities they provide to the community is unacceptable, and that the Church in this country expects the prompt release of medical staff detained from the Al-Ahli hospital.”

On Monday, the Chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Canon Don Binder, reported that the IDF had destroyed the front wall of the Anglican Al-Ahli Hospital, confirmed by the UN to be the only partially functional hospital in north Gaza. It had “detained most of the staff there”, he wrote in an update on social media.

“They left two junior doctors, four nurses, and two janitors to tend to over one hundred seriously wounded patients. All with no running water and no electricity. An IDF tank is currently parked on the rubble of the hospital’s entry wall, blocking all ingress and egress.”

On Sunday, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, condemned the “effective destruction” of Kamal Adwan Hospital, in northern Gaza, over the weekend, which led to the deaths of eight patients, including a nine-year-old child. “Gaza’s health system was already on its knees, and the loss of another even minimally functioning hospital is a severe blow,” he wrote on social media.

The IDF reported on Thursday of last week that it had apprehended dozens of “terrorists” at the hospital, who had emerged with weapons in hand. It admitted the next day that it had mistakenly identified and killed three Israeli hostages who were holding up a white flag. On Sunday, the force released a film of its chief of general staff telling his troops: “If it’s two Gazans with a white flag coming out to surrender why would we shoot at them? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That’s not the IDF.”

On Tuesday, an IDF spokeswoman, Major Keren Hajioff, said: “Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields forces the IDF to fight under circumstances that few militaries if any have faced in the history of modern urban warfare. . . We do so while operating with caution and care to minimise harm to the civilians that Hamas is hiding behind, all while urgently looking for our hostages being held in Hamas captivity.” There was a “robust system” for impartial examinations of “deviations”, she said.

The IDF released footage on Sunday of a Hamas tunnel wide enough for a car to drive through. A Sunday Times reporter who entered it described how “in another place it could have been a service tunnel of a public-transport system”. A senior IDF officer told him: “Hamas used every bit of humanitarian aid that went into Gaza. Building materials that went in to build homes and schools were used instead for this tunnel, which cost them millions.”

On Sunday, the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza was opened for the first time since 7 October. It followed warnings from the deputy chief of the UN World Food Programme, Carl Skau, that half of the population was “starving. The grim reality is also that nine out of ten people are not eating enough, are not eating every day, and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

More than half of the 1.9 million displaced people in Gaza have sought shelter in the southern town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border, where UN shelters are nine times over capacity. Heavy rains have deepened the misery.

In a piece for The Sunday Times, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, and his German counterpart called for a “sustainable” rather than immediate ceasefire.

“We do not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward,” they wrote. “It ignores why Israel is forced to defend itself: Hamas barbarically attacked Israel and still fires rockets to kill Israeli citizens every day. . .

“An unsustainable ceasefire, quickly collapsing into further violence, would only make it harder to build the confidence needed for peace. . . Leaving Hamas in power in Gaza would be a permanent roadblock on the path to a two-state solution.”

They wrote that “too many civilians have been killed,” that more aid must reach Palestinians, and that “extremist settlers in the West Bank” were to be condemned for their “hateful acts”. Last week, Lord Cameron announced that the UK was “banning those responsible for settler violence from entering the UK to make sure our country cannot be a home for people who commit these intimidating acts”.

Dr Krish Kandiah, the head of the Sanctuary Foundation, a charity supporting the reception refugees in the UK, visited Bethlehem and East Jerusalem last week, to explore “humanitarian solutions” that churches and civil society could take up.

He noted that the Australian government had approved more than 800 visas for Palestinians to enter Australia since 7 October, and that medical evacuations to Egypt and Turkey had taken place.

“We were exploring whether that would be wanted, because obviously there’s a lot of sensitivity around Gazans leaving Gaza,” he said. “But I’ve been contacted personally by families that would like to come out. . . Things are so desperate that people are open to other solutions.” Medics were “very open” to this.

The French government had also sent a medical ship into the Mediterranean. “We want there to be a ceasefire, we want there to be hostage and captive release, but while we wait for that there shouldn’t be no other option on the table,” he said.

The Sanctuary Foundation has produced a short film, Far From Home, highlighting the parallels between the Christmas story and those of refugees.

Read more on this story in this week’s Comment here and here.

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