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Israeli Defense Forces confirmed an “incident” at the last Catholic Church in Gaza following accusations from the prelate that soldiers shot and killed two Christian women and struck a convent.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa claimed in a letter Saturday that two Christian women were killed by IDF snipers inside the Holy Family Church in Gaza during a larger assault on the parish.

“When reviewing incidents that may have taken place in the vicinity of churches in Gaza, it was found that an incident took place during yesterday afternoon (Saturday) in another area in Gaza, near the Latin Church in the Shejayia area,” an IDF spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement.

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The statement continued, “An initial review suggests that IDF troops, who were operating against Hamas terrorists in the area, operated against a threat that they identified in the area of the church. The IDF is conducting a thorough review of the incident.”

Pizzaballa, who is also a Catholic cardinal, wrote in the urgent Saturday letter describing the events that the victims — identified as a woman named Nahida and her daughter Samar — were “shot and killed as they walked to the Sisters’ Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety.”

Multiple other Christian parishioners were allegedly wounded in the attack, which Pizzaballa claims was unprompted and without warning despite a lack of combatants in the complex. 

“Seven more people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others inside the church compound,” the Latin patriarch wrote. “No warning was given, no notification was provided. They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there were no belligerents.”

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Holy Family Parish

The Holy See later republished Pizzaballa’s report with further commentary through its official news agency, Vatican News.

“The Israeli military on Saturday entered the compound of the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza, shooting at anyone leaving the church,” the statement via Vatican News reads. “The victims are an elderly woman and her daughter who rushed out of the building to rescue her mother. Israel has justified the attack, claiming the presence of a missile launcher in the parish.”

The IDF claimed to Fox News Digital that the skirmish took place due to a “threat” that was “identified in the area of the church.”

“An initial review suggests that IDF troops, who were operating against Hamas terrorists in the area, operated against a threat that they identified in the area of the church.”

The IDF spokesperson said a review of the incident is underway.

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Israeli soldiers in combat in Gaza

Holy Family Church is the only Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip and one of the last remaining Christian communities in the region.

The parish compound is also home to the Missionaries of Charity, an order of female religious members founded by Mother Theresa that is dedicated to serving the sick and disabled.

Pizzaballa reported that a rocket fired from an Israeli tank during the assault struck the nuns’ convent, disrupting the operations of the order’s care for approximately 54 disabled civilians living in the compound.

“The building’s generator (the only source of electricity) and the fuel resources were destroyed,” Pizzaballa wrote. “The house was damaged by the resulting explosion and massive fire. Two more rockets, fired by an IDF tank, targeted the same Convent and rendered the home uninhabitable.”

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Missionaries of Charity in Gaza

The patriarch reports that the residents sheltered in the complex have been scattered due to the attacks, which have caused further casualties.

“The 54 disabled persons are currently displaced and without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive. In addition, as a result of the heavy bombing in the area, three people were wounded inside the church compound last night,” he continued. “Furthermore, solar panels and water tanks, which are indispensable for the survival of the community, were destroyed.”

Pizzaballa concluded his letter with an expression of profound loss and confusion regarding the violence, noting the approaching Christmas holiday.

“We cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole Church prepares for Christmas,” Pizzaballa wrote. “The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem follows this developing situation with great concern and shall provide additional information as needed.”

 

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa

The IDF, in its statements to Fox News Digital, claimed that the Latin Patriarchate had not mentioned the two individuals allegedly shot by the IDF during a communication about explosions on Saturday morning.

In his letter, the Latin Patriarch alleged Nahida and Samar were killed “around noon.”

“Yesterday (Saturday), a letter from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was received describing a tragic incident that took place in the Holy Family Parish which is located in the Rimal area in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF told Fox News Digital. “Yesterday morning (Saturday), representatives of the church contacted the IDF regarding explosions that were heard near the church.”

The Latin Patriarchate is the highest Catholic authority in the Holy Land and the protector of the Holy Family Parish. It has existed since 1099.

The statement added, “During the dialogue between the IDF and representatives of the community, no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised. A review of the IDF’s operational findings support this.”

Pope Francis addressed the reports coming out of the Latin Patriarchate during a Sunday address, where he called the ongoing 

“I continue receiving very serious and sad news about Gaza. Unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire. And this has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, sisters,” Pope Francis said at the Angelus address this week.

“Some are saying, ‘This is terrorism and war.’ Yes, it is war, it is terrorism. That is why Scripture says that ‘God puts an end to war… the bow he breaks and the spear he snaps,’” the pontiff continued. “Let us pray to the Lord for peace.”

The IDF maintains that its military operation “only targets terrorists and terror infrastructure and does not target civilians, no matter their religion.”

The spokesman added in its statement to Fox News Digital that “fighting against a terrorist organization which does everything to put civilians at risk – including by using civilians and holy sites as human shields for its terror activities.”

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