Issa Tarazi executive director of Near East Council of Churches Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, told the Register Thursday that the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza has opened its doors to between 150 to 200 Muslims who lost their homes in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City earlier this week.
The neighborhood, a Hamas stronghold, was the site of intense ground battles between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters on July 20. Sixty-five Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. It was the third day of Israel’s ground operation aimed at destroying Hamas’ arsenal of rockets and its network of underground tunnels reaching into Israeli territory. Israel decided on the ground campaign after Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israeli population centers and refused an Egyptian cease-fire plan.
“These are big families and they had nowhere else to go,” Tarazi said in a phone interview. “People who have relatives are staying with them, but these people have no relatives who could take them in. Some have lost loved ones.”
Tarazi said the local Christian community cannot afford to feed them, but that “local NGOs are helping.”
The Christian community, he said, “suffers the same way as all Palestinians are suffering in Gaza. No one can walk in the street out of fear of bombardments.
In a separate interview with Catholic News Service Tarazi said he had been unable to reach his work since the offensive began, and his wife and 17-year-old son left for Jordan to be with relatives so his son could continue with his studies. His three older children already live abroad, he said. He remained because of job responsibilities as well as to look after several elderly relatives, whom he could not reach because of the bombing.
“The situation is difficult; there is no future in Gaza, no work, no economy. They have to start their life [somewhere else],” he told CNS about his children living abroad. “One day if the situation changes and there is work, maybe they can come back.”
Tarazi told the news service that the previous day, a missile landed on a four-story structure not far from where he lives. He said although Israel gives warning “knocks” to residents to leave, they have only seconds to evacuate their homes before the missiles come.
Israel maintains that their warnings give adequate time to civilians to leave the targeted areas, from where they believe missiles have been fired or where weapons are being hidden. Israel says they are also targeting militants’ homes.
“We pray for peace and justice,” Tarazi said. “We are against the killing of all civilians. It is a vicious circle, one starts shooting and the other replies and the losers are the civilians.”
He added, “I hope things calm down and they begin to negotiate peace. We are fed up with this.”