Gaza suffered yet more destruction as Israel levelled a northern district overnight and hit an Orthodox Christian church where others had been sheltering.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the main Palestinian Christian denomination, said Israeli forces had struck the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, where hundreds of Christians and Muslims had sought sanctuary.
Destruction toll increasing
Israel has pounded Gaza with air strikes and put the enclave’s 2.3 million people under a total siege, banning shipments even of food, fuel and medical supplies.
Since Oct. 7, 3,785 Palestinians have been killed including more than 1,500 children, Palestinian officials say.
The U.N. says more than a million have been made homeless.
Video from the scene showed a wounded boy being carried from rubble at night.
A civil defence worker said two people on upper floors had survived; those on lower floors had been killed and their bodies were still in the rubble.
‘They felt they would be safe here. They came from under the bombardment and the destruction, and they said they would be safe here but destruction chased them,’ a man cried out.
Gaza’s Hamas-run government media office said 18 Christian Palestinians had been killed.
There was no immediate word from the church on the final death toll.
It said targeting churches that were used as shelters for people fleeing bombing was ‘a war crime that cannot be ignored.’
Israeli military commented on the hit
The Israeli military said part of the church was damaged in a strike on a militant command centre and it was reviewing the incident.
In Zahra, a northern Gaza town, residents said their entire district of some 25 multi-storey apartment buildings was razed to the ground.
They received Israeli warning messages on their mobile phones at breakfast time, followed ten minutes later by a small drone strike that hammered the message home.
Half an hour after the initial warning, F-16 warplanes brought the buildings down in huge explosions and clouds of dust.
‘Everything I ever dreamt of and thought that I have achieved was gone. In that apartment was my dream, my memories with my children, and my wife, was the smell of safety and love,’ Ali, a resident of the district, told Reuters by phone, declining to give his full name for fear of reprisals.
The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said more than 140,000 homes – nearly a third of all homes in Gaza – have been damaged, with nearly 13,000 completely destroyed.