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Israel bombs series of ancient holy sites as war officially enters its third week

UPDATE 10/23/23: Sunday would prove to be one of the deadliest days in Gaza since hostilities between Israel and Palestine renewed on October 7th. According to reports, 400 Palestinians have been killed as a result of unrepentant Israeli air strikes, including 60 overnight.

A spokesman for the IDF claimed that warplanes struck 320 separate “terror targets” in Gaza overnight, including the Jabalia refugee camp. Among those killed were up to 30 people, with reports asserting that many of the corpses pulled from the rubble were women and children. Adding to the casualties were twenty-seven wounded, placing further strain on a Palestinian hospital system that is already struggling to keep up with demand.

As a result of ruthless American-sponsored bombing, Gazan infrastructure has been decimated by Israeli forces. Up to 50% of all residential homes in the Gaza Strip have now been damaged by heavy ordinance, with close to 20,000 housing units having been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. The lack of basic housing has resulted in up to 70% of residents being displaced from their former neighborhoods.

“The Israeli occupation is deliberately damaging the residential buildings, public facilities, and service facilities,” said Salama Maarouf of the Hamas-run media office in a statement. “Because of the intensifying Israeli airstrikes, more than 165,000 housing units were partially damaged, and nearly 20,000 housing units were completely demolished or became uninhabitable.

The global consequences of the suspected Israeli attack on Al-Ahli Hospital are ongoing, and the Justice Report will provide updates as they become available.

West Bank, Gaza, Palestine – Scores are dead and countless others wounded after a series of IDF bombings targeted ancient holy sites this weekend. Among those devastated are a 12-century Orthodox church and a pair of mosques in what is being reported as a “targeted assassination” by the Israeli military

Early Sunday morning, an airstrike launched by Israeli warplanes struck an area close to Al-Ansar mosque at a refugee camp located inside the tumultuous West Bank city of Jenin. The attack resulted in the death of at least one Palestinian and injuries to three others, as reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry. Footage of the aftermath was quickly circulated on social media, depicting scenes of chaos as fire brigades and other first responders frantically moved to assist those affected.

Mosques, such as this one in Khan Younis, have become popular targets for Israeli air forces. Al-Ansar mosque in the West Bank city of Jenin was once the largest mosque in Palestine. It was targeted by an IDF airstrike on Sunday after a military spokesman claimed it served as a “command center” for Palestinian resistance fighters. Photo: OSV News photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters

According to a statement by the IDF, the strike was a “joint operation between the army and the Shin Bet,” which targeted an alleged “underground terrorist route” below the mosque. Israeli forces claimed a series of suspected tunnels was being used by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters. The strike would mark a clear escalation in Israeli aggression in the West Bank, which so far has only experienced riots and civil unrest compared to the militant defiance of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The bombing of Al-Ansar Mosque would merely be the latest holy site ravaged in the wake of Israel’s unrestricted air campaign. Just a few days prior, warplanes bombed the 7th-century Al-Omari Mosque, a 1,400-year-old structure with religious significance to both Muslims and Christians. Originally a Byzantine church, Al-Omari was the largest mosque in Palestine and the third oldest church in the entire world.

Just hours before that bombing, however, Israel drew worldwide outrage and condemnation after its fighters ruthlessly bombed the compound of the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City. The holy site—which had been tending to a “large number” of civilians displaced from previous bombings across north Gaza—is a Greek Orthodox church reportedly built in 1150 and acted as a sanctuary to peoples of various faiths throughout its lifespan.

The ruins of a building adjacent to the historic St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City. While the church mostly survived the blast, its facade was reportedly damaged, and hundreds have been displaced, wounded, or killed. Photo: Ali Jadallah, Getty Images.

According to reports, the IDF had targeted a building near the church, which they alleged was being used as a “command and control center” for Hamas. After the strike, the building collapsed, and the facade of Saint Porphyrius was heavily damaged. While civilian casualties were still being calculated, estimates bandied about on social media were suspected to be in the hundreds.

“Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children, and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in a statement.

Among the dead were multiple family members of Justin Amash, a Palestinian Christian and former US Congressman. Amash was the first Palestinian American elected to Congress until Rashida Tlaib joined the US House in 2019. Both hailed from Michigan. “Our family is hurting badly. May God watch over all Christians in Gaza—and all Israelis and Palestinians who are suffering, whatever their religion or creed,” said Amash on Twitter/X.

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Just three days prior to being bombed, the Church of Saint Porphyrius was featured by Al Jazeera for being one of the few remaining sanctuaries in Gaza that tended to all faiths and served as a refuge for those who had no other place to go. In the piece, Father Elias, an Orthodox Christian priest, admitted he did not know if Israel planned on bombing the church or not, even though it housed hundreds of people.

“The Israeli military has bombed many places of sanctuary,” said Father Elias. “(It) would not only be an attack on religion, which is a vile deed but also an attack on humanity…Our humanity calls us to offer peace and warmth to everyone in need.”

The Israeli strategy of indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in Gaza, combined with tit-for-tat strikes on targets along its northern border with Lebanon, officially entered its third week on Monday. According to Al Jazeera, Israeli air raids have killed 266 Palestinians in the past 24 hours alone, and at the time of press, at least 4.651 Palestinians have been killed. More than 14,000 have been wounded since the start of hostilities on October 7th, and according to the United Nations, over a million have been made homeless.

Worsening the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is an Israeli-imposed blockade, which has effectively cut off food, water, power, and safe travel away from the bombings. The lack of resources has made life unlivable for millions of people, and according to a report by the United Nations, at least 120 newborn babies in incubators are currently at risk of death as fuel supplies reach critical levels at what little Palestinian hospitals remain.

“We have currently 120 neonates who are in incubators, out of which we have 70 neonates with mechanical ventilation, and of course, this is where we are extremely concerned,” said UNICEF spokesperson Jonathan Crickx. “If they [babies] are put in mechanical ventilation incubators, by definition, if you cut the electricity, we are worried about their lives.”

“The Israeli military has bombed many places of sanctuary…(It) would not only be an attack on religion, which is a vile deed but also an attack on humanity…Our humanity calls us to offer peace and warmth to everyone in need.”

Father Elias, Orthodox Christian priest

Despite a blockade that some have referred to as “strangling,” a convoy of 17 trucks from various Arab and Persian nations successfully arrived in Gaza through the Rafah Crossing along the Egyptian border. The trucks were believed to be carrying essential humanitarian aid and other desperately needed supplies. Still, the trip through Rafah is dangerous, no thanks to Israeli airstrikes, which have reportedly hit roads and areas on the Gaza side of the crossing. Israel had previously bombed these areas numerous times since the war began, and on Sunday, an IDF tank “accidentally” fired upon an Egyptian position even though they are not a co-belligerent in the current war.

The ruins of what is being reported as the Nuseirat market in central Gaza, hit by Israeli warplanes during a night raid. Sites like this join a growing list of civilian targets that the IDF believes to be utilized by Hamas or PIJ militants. Photo: Telegram

“The Jews want the Arabs to run from Gaza City. They want them to know there is nowhere safe. Not hospitals. Not churches,” commented Mike Peinovich, chairman of the North American-based anti-Zionist organization, the National Justice Party, on Telegram. “Additionally, they plan on annexing Gaza City, so (Saint Porphyrius Church) would have been another world heritage site they would have been obligated to protect. Jews see any church as a direct insult.”

Israel’s apparent disregard for human life in its ruthless campaign against the Palestinian people has so far drawn the ire of millions of people across the globe. On Tuesday, Israel shocked the world when targeted air-burst munitions from an Israeli warplane were believed to have rocked the Al-Ahli al-Arabi Hospital, an Anglican Christian medical center that killed over 500. Despite ample evidence which suggested the deadly explosion was the result of an Israeli strike, western leaders, the media, and the Israelis themselves attempted to shift the blame back onto a misfired Hamas rocket.

Israel was also criticized at the onset of the war for flooding social and state media channels with so-called “atrocity propaganda,” which accused the Palestinians of acts of over-the-top violence in an attempt to drum up international support. Despite numerous attempts—including reports of “40 beheaded babies” at the hands of Hamas militants—many were quickly debunked, with some even accusing pro-Israeli supporters of using AI-generated images to support their seemingly baseless claims.

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