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Orthodox Church Opens Its Doors to Displaced Muslims in Gaza

07/25/2014 Comments (12)

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.”

Filed under christians in the middle east, greek orthodox church, hamas, holy land, israel, palestinian authority

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Pope Francis visits the Holy Land May 24 to May 26. The motto of the pilgrimage is “So that they may be one.” At the center of the pope’s pilgrimage will be the meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. The ecumenical gathering marks the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1964 to express their commitment to unity.

These writers are covering the Pope’s Holy Land Pilgrimage:

Michele Chabin is the Register’s longtime Middle East correspondent. She has lived in Israel for two decades and has covered religious news in that region for USA Today and Religious News Service among other publications. Follow Michele on twitter at: @michelechabin

Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. She is a frequent contributor to a number of Catholic media outlets. Marge has written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Follow Marge at

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer. His writings have also appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and on Peter is a 2011 graduate of the National Journalism Center. Contact Peter at And follow him at