Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike July 29. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday crumbled. CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA

Even with airstrike warnings, Gaza parish staff have nowhere to go

By  Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • July 30, 2014

JERUSALEM - When the staff at the lone Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip received text warnings to evacuate the premises, they had nowhere to go.

Fr. Raed Abusahlia, president of Caritas Jerusalem who has been in contact with the parish priest, told Catholic News Service that Fr. Jorge Hernandez of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and three nuns who live at the parish had nowhere to evacuate the 29 severely disabled children and nine elderly women in their care.

Since Israel launched airstrikes against Gaza July 8, it has sent text messages to citizens to evacuate if they will be near a target. Israel bombed near Holy Family Catholic Church the morning of July 30.

The Vatican's Fides news agency, citing details from Hernandez, said the main target of the bombing was a home a few metres away from the parish. The home was completely destroyed, and the parish school, office and some rooms used by the parish were partially destroyed.

Abusahlia told CNS all the windows of the whole compound, as well as that of the Greek Orthodox Church, already were shattered from previous bombings of buildings around them.

"They are in a very difficult situation," said Abusahlia. "It is a very dangerous area."

He said the number of refugees at the parish school, some distance away from the parish compound, increased from 600 people to 1,400 in the week ending July 30, and the number of refugees sheltered by the Greek Orthodox Church had increased from 1,400 to 1,900.

Caritas has been providing them with powdered milk, diapers and gasoline, which is especially important after the attack on the Gaza electrical plant. They rely on generators, Abusahlia said, and the gas to run them is very difficult and expensive to obtain.

Fides quoted Hernandez as saying: "We had a tough night, but we are here. This war is absurd.

"Everything happens around us," he said. "The Hamas militants continue to fire rockets and then hide in the alleys. And we cannot do anything. We cannot evacuate, it is impossible with children. Their families live here. It is more dangerous to go out than stay here. We try to stay in safer places, always on the ground floor."

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