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Gaza church opens doors to injured and sick as hospitals fill

St Philip's church once offered a haven of devotion to Gaza's small Christian community. After nine months of Israeli military action, priests have turned it into a hospital.
Last Updated : 04 July 2024, 16:41 IST

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Gaza: St Philip's church once offered a haven of devotion to Gaza's small Christian community. After nine months of Israeli military action that has devastated the Palestinian enclave's health system, priests have turned it into a hospital.

Beds line the pale stone walls under a vaulted roof as doctors tend to patients unable to find a space at the Anglican-run Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital, which like Gaza's other remaining medical facilities is straining under high demand.

"The space designated for prayers was converted into a clinic due to the lack of available places. Today, our priority is to save the life of every human being that we can," said priest Munther Isaac, wearing a black shirt and clerical collar.

A man stood by one bed, fanning the elderly patient lying with an oxygen mask over his mouth. Crosses were carved into the walls of the nave. St Philip's is located in the same compound as the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital.

"There was no place to admit patients to the departments so we were forced to turn to this place, which is a place for Christians to worship here in Gaza," said Doctor Mohammed al-Sheikh.

"Due to the shortage of supplies we used pews as beds for the patients," he added.

The war began on October 7 when fighters from the Palestinian militant group Hamas stormed border defences to raid communities in Israel, killing 1,200 people and grabbing about 250 as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's assault on Gaza in response began the same day with a pounding bombardment that has continued for nine months along with a ground invasion that Palestinian health authorities say has killed more than 38,000 people and injured more than 80,000.

The high number of injured from the conflict has added to the rampant disease and malnutrition among the 90 per cent of Gaza residents that the UN says have been made homeless, putting massive pressure on the enclave's health system.

However, Israel's military campaign has put many hospitals and other health facilities out of action, according to the World Health Organisation, and caused major shortages of needed medical supplies.

Israel denies deliberately targeting health facilities or stopping medical supplies getting into Gaza.

"In this church, which is no longer a house of worship but has been turned into a nursing facility, we are getting some basic medical services," said Abu Mohammed Abu Samra, who was accompanying his sick mother being treated at St. Philip's.

"It shows the solidarity between Muslims and Christians in northern Gaza," he added.

While there is a significant Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank, the Christian community is very small in Gaza, which since 2006 has been controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

Outside St. Philip's, life in Gaza continued, the signs of war damage visible on the busy street as a man cycled past.

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Published 04 July 2024, 16:41 IST

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