Pope Sounds Off After Israeli Sniper Kills 2 at Catholic Church in Gaza

Pope Francis condemned an Israeli sniper’s killing of two women who were taking shelter at a Catholic church in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, describing it as terrorism as he gave his weekend blessing.

“Some would say ‘It is war. It is terrorism,’” he said. “Yes, it is war. It is terrorism.”

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said that the women, a mother and daughter, had been walking to the Sister’s Convent at the Holy Family Parish when shots rang out. “One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” the ecclesiastical office said.

Seven other people were shot and wounded in the attack at the compound, where many of Gaza’s dwindling Christian population have taken shelter since Israel declared a state of war on Hamas in October.

“No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the patriarchate’s statement continued. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”

The pope identified the women as Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar Kamal Anton.

“Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings,” he said. “And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns.”

The Angelus prayer on Sunday was not the first time that Francis has explicitly connected Israel’s actions to terror since its bombardment campaign began. In a Nov. 22 speech at St. Peter’s Square, he stated that the conflict had “gone beyond war. This is terrorism.”

The pope also noted in his Sunday address that the IDF had also targeted the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, a part of the compound that houses 54 disabled people. The attack, which also occurred on Saturday, destroyed the convent’s generator and fuel resources, with the patriarchate saying the building had been rendered “uninhabitable.”

The Israel Defense Forces initially refuted the claim of an attack on the parish, telling The Times of Israel that, though church officials had contacted the military about the parish about nearby explosions on Saturday, “no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised.” It added that the Israeli military “does not target civilians, no matter their religion.”

Hours later, however, an IDF spokesperson confirmed to Fox News that an “incident” at the church had indeed taken place. “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,” the spokesperson said.

“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,” they continued. “The IDF is conducting a thorough review of the incident.”

The Holy See, the government of Vatican City, republished the Jerusalem patriarchate’s statement in a news release issued through Vatican News. It added: “Israel has justified the attack, claiming the presence of a missile launcher in the parish.”

The killings in the parish took place just days after the IDF admitted it had accidentally killed three Israeli hostages, having mistaken them as a threat. The military said over the weekend that the hostages had been unarmed and waving a white flag. The IDF has said the incident is under investigation.

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