A strike on an ancient church in Gaza City has killed at least 18 people and injured many more, according to Palestinian health officials. The church was sheltering hundreds of displaced Palestinians who had fled their homes amid the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
The strike occurred on Thursday night at the Church of Saint Porphyrius, the oldest active church in Gaza, serving the roughly 1,000 Palestinian Christians in the enclave. The church was built in the fifth century and named after Saint Porphyrius, the bishop of Gaza who is credited with bringing Christianity to the city.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the church was hit without any prior warning, and that many victims were still under the rubble. It called the attack a “war crime” and a “massacre”.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem blamed Israel for the strike, saying that it was part of its ongoing offensive on Gaza, which has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians and wounded more than 7,600 since October 7.
Israel denied any responsibility for the strike, saying that it was caused by a “failed rocket launch” by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the two main Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that they did not target the church, and that they had intelligence that suggested that it was a failed rocket launch by Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
However, some eyewitnesses and experts disputed Israel’s claim, saying that the scale and impact of the strike indicated that it was not caused by a Palestinian rocket.
Not a Rocket
“This was not a rocket. This was a huge bomb that destroyed the whole church. It was like an earthquake,” said Mohammed al-Masri, a journalist who was near the church when the strike occurred.
Dr. Ted Postol, a professor of science, technology and international security at MIT, analyzed videos and images of the strike and concluded that it was “very unlikely” that it was caused by a Palestinian rocket.
“The blast pattern and the damage to the building are consistent with a large explosive device detonated near or inside the church,” he told The Guardian. “A Palestinian rocket would have left a much smaller crater and would have caused less damage.”
The strike on the church came amid escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, which began on October 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing 1,300 Israelis and taking at least 100 Israelis hostage.
Israel responded with an aerial and naval bombardment of Gaza, targeting Hamas militants and infrastructure, but also hitting residential buildings, schools, hospitals and media offices.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, previous attempts to broker a truce have failed, as both sides have rejected each other’s conditions.