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Patriarchs in Jerusalem condemn Palestinian deaths

08 March 2024

More than 100 died during an aid delivery in northern Gaza last week


Parachutes are loaded at an airbase near Madrid on Wednesday. At the request of King Abdullah of Jordan, they will be used to carry out airdrops of food supplies in Gaza, where road deliveries of aid have been interrupted

Parachutes are loaded at an airbase near Madrid on Wednesday. At the request of King Abdullah of Jordan, they will be used to carry out airdrops of fo...

THE Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have condemned as a “wanton attack against innocent civilians” an incident in which more than 100 Palestinians died during an aid delivery last week.

The Hamas-run health ministry reported that at least 112 people were killed early on Thursday morning last week, at the Nabulsi roundabout in northern Gaza. A spokesman blamed Israeli forces for what he described as a “massacre”.

Witnesses told the Associated Press that Israeli troops had fired on a crowd of Palestinians who were racing to pull food off an aid convoy. At Al-Shifa Hospital, a man cradling the body of a dead friend told the BBC that Israeli soldiers had opened fire, “and the aid lorry ran over the bodies.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that residents had surrounded trucks and looted supplies. “As a result of the pushing, trampling and being run over by trucks, dozens of Gazans were killed and injured,” a statement said. An Israeli source quoted by the BBC said that Israeli troops who were securing the aid lorries opened fire at the crowd after several people approached the troops “in a manner that posed a threat”.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council expressed “deep concern” about the loss of life, in a statement that said that the UN humanitarian agency had observed people with gunshot wounds. It said that an Israeli investigation was under way.

The Patriarchs’ statement repeated reports that Israeli forces had opened fire, and quoted the Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who, in the wake of the incident, spoke of “heroic fighters operating in Gaza, who acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them”. The delivery of aid to Gaza was “not only madness while our hostages are held in the Strip . . . but also endangers IDF soldiers”.

The Patriarchs called for the warring parties to “reach an immediate and lengthy ceasefire that allows for the speedy disbursement of relief supplies throughout the Gaza Strip and for the enactment of a negotiated release of those held captives and prisoners”.

Little aid is reaching northern Gaza. The World Food Programme announced on 20 February that it had paused deliveries to the area, amid “unprecedented levels of desperation”. The previous day, a convoy had been surrounded by crowds of hungry people.

“First fending off multiple attempts by people trying to climb aboard our trucks, then facing gunfire once we entered Gaza City, our team was able to distribute a small quantity of the food along the way,” a statement said. “On Monday, the second convoy’s journey north faced complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order. Several trucks were looted between Khan Younes and Deir al Balah and a truck driver was beaten. The remaining flour was spontaneously distributed off the trucks in Gaza City, amidst high tension and explosive anger.”

Last week, the UK and Jordan airdropped tonnes of life-saving aid to the Tal Al-Hawa Hospital, in northern Gaza

The UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, told the General Assembly this week that the agency was “at a breaking point”. Aid entry into Gaza had decreased by 50 per cent since January, he said.

The Patriarchs’ statement included a reminder of the 800 Christians still sheltering in two churches in northern Gaza, and paid tribute to the “intrepid” staff and volunteers at the Anglican Al-Ahli Hospital and its patients.

This week, sources reported that Al-Ahli Hospital was “stretched well beyond capacity”, but managing to perform 18 to 22 operations a day while caring for 300 outpatients. Both doctors and patients had faced severe food shortages, and the hospital was running on solar power, at 30 per cent of capacity.

About 560 Christians, including 140 children and 84 over-65s, are reported to be sheltering at the Holy Family, in northern Gaza (News, 15 December 2023). About 120 people have left Gaza, using emergency visas or through foreign-nationality eligibility. Both the Holy Family and Greek Orthodox St Porphyrius’s continue to provide practical aid. The latter is providing water, meals, and washing facilities, and distributing petrol to maintain the operation of generators.

A source reported that, to date, 30 Palestinian Christians had been killed since October: 19 by the military, and 11 because of a lack of medical care.

In November, the Israeli military entered the Rosary Sisters’ School, in Gaza (News, 22/29 December 2023). More than 80 per cent of its buildings have been destroyed. While the Sisters continue to teach and care for children in the Holy Family parish, one Sister has been evacuated and another is due to leave, suffering from exhaustion. It is uncertain whether the Sisters will be able to resume their presence in Gaza.

Israel reports that 134 hostages remain in Gaza. On Sunday, a member of Hamas, Basem Naim, told the BBC’s Newshour: “Practically, it is impossible to know who is still alive because of the Israeli bombardment and blockage. They are in different areas with different groups.”

This week, Orit Meir spoke to The Jewish Chronicle about her son, Almog Meir Jan, who was seized at the Nova music festival on 7 October. “I am waiting every day for my son. We love him, and we miss him,” she said. “Almog has dreams. He wants to travel, wants to study, wants to do lots of things. I believe all his dreams will come true, but first we need him back.”

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