About 1,000 Palestinian Muslims fleeing Israeli shells devastating their Gaza neighborhood have found shelter in a building they otherwise would rarely if ever enter, the city's 12th-century Greek Orthodox Church.
St. Porphyrius monastery is the heart of the small Greek Orthodox community in Gaza. The church dates to the Crusades in the 12th century. Since Sunday, more than 700 evacuees, all of them Muslims, have crowded into the courtyard for what they hoped was refuge.
“I was just saying to my friend, ‘Relax, this is the safest place in Gaza,’ when the first rockets hit,” said Majid al-Jamal, 22, who works in a body shop and was struck on the head by a piece of flying brick Monday night.
That is when four Israeli missiles struck the tombs in the small church cemetery. Shrapnel peppered the school next door. Jamal said militants fired rockets, from the cemetery or nearby.
Israel says mosques, schools and hospitals are being used to fire rockets or cache weapons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netantayu said Hamas is “targeting our civilians and hiding behind its civilians. That’s a double war crime.”
Only about 1,400 Christians - Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants - live among the 1.8 million Muslims, meaning they make up 0.08 percent of the population in the crowded Gaza Strip dominated by Hamas, an Islamist group.
When the then Pope Benedict quoted a medieval scholar describing Islam as violent and irrational in 2006, unknown militants attacked five churches in Palestinian areas, including Saint Porphyrius - even though it is Orthodox, not Catholic.