Israel levels Gaza, hits Orthodox church as invasion threatens | ultragr

Israel levels Gaza, hits Orthodox church as invasion threatens
  • The UN Secretary General visited Egypt’s Gaza crossing
  • Guterres: Aid trucks must move as soon as possible
  • At least 4,137 Palestinians were reportedly killed

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 20 (Reuters) – Israel razed northern Gaza on Friday after giving families a half-hour warning to flee and raided an Orthodox Christian church where others were hiding as it made clear that an order to an invasion of Gaza was expected soon.

The United Nations Secretary-General visited the crossing between the besieged Gaza Strip and Egypt and said humanitarian aid must be allowed in as soon as possible.

Israel has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, after its gunmen breached the barrier fence surrounding the enclave on October 7 and went on a rampage in Israeli towns and kibbutzim, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told the troops that the order to invade would come soon. Meanwhile, Israel has bombarded Gaza with airstrikes, placing the enclave’s 2.3 million residents under complete siege, cutting off supplies including food, fuel and medical supplies.

At least 4,137 Palestinians have been killed and 13,000 wounded in Israeli strikes in Gaza since October 7, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

The UN reports that more than a million people have been made homeless.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the main Palestinian Christian denomination, he said Israeli forces hit the Church of Saint Porphyry in Gaza City, where hundreds of Christians and Muslims sought refuge.

Video from the scene shows an injured boy being carried out of the rubble at night. A civil defense official said two people on the upper floors survived; those on the lower floors had been killed and their bodies were still in ruins.

“They felt they would be safe here. They came from under the bombing and the destruction and they said they would be safe here, but the destruction followed them,” the man shouted.

The Hamas-run Gaza government media office said 18 Christian Palestinians were killed, while the health ministry later put the number at 16. The church did not immediately release a final death toll. Targeting churches that were being used as shelters for people fleeing bombings was “a war crime that cannot be ignored.”

The Israeli military said part of the church was damaged in the strike on the militant command center and was investigating the incident.


Israel has already called on all civilians to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which includes Gaza City. Many people have not yet left because they are afraid of losing everything and have nowhere to go safely as the southern areas are also under attack.

In Zahra, a city in northern Gaza, residents said their entire neighborhood of about 25 apartment buildings had been razed to the ground.

At breakfast, they received Israeli warning messages on their cell phones, followed ten minutes later by a small drone attack that threw the message home. After another 20 minutes, F-16 warplanes brought down the buildings in huge explosions and clouds of dust.

“Everything I ever dreamed of and what I thought I had achieved was gone. In that apartment was my dream, my memories with my children and my wife smelled of safety and love,” said Ali, a resident of this neighborhood. He declined to give his full name to Reuters by phone for fear of retaliation.

The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs said more than 140,000 homes – nearly a third of all homes in Gaza – were damaged, with nearly 13,000 completely destroyed.

The south of the enclave was also regularly hit. Rescuers combed the rubble of a house in the southern capital Khan Younis for survivors. One carried the lifeless body of a child.

“We don’t want to get help, we want the destruction and killing of children in their sleep to stop. We are tired,” said neighbor Joumana Khreis.

A man cried as a medic comforted him on the side of the road next to two dead bodies wrapped in white shrouds. The bodies were later held aloft by protesters who carried them through the streets of Khan Younis.


International attention has focused on getting aid to Gaza through the only access point not controlled by Israel, the Rafah crossing into Egypt. US President Joe Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday, appeared with a promise from Israel to allow limited supplies from Egypt, provided the aid is monitored to prevent any reaching Hamas.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited a checkpoint on the Egyptian side and called for a meaningful number of trucks to enter Gaza every day and for checks to be swift and pragmatic.

“We are actively working with all parties to ensure that the aid conditions are lifted,” he said.

Western leaders have so far mostly offered support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas, even as there is growing concern over the plight of civilians in Gaza.

Biden gave a televised speech on Thursday calling for billions in US military aid to Israel to fight Hamas. But he also said: “We cannot ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who just want to live in peace and have an opportunity.”

The conflict is also spreading to two other fronts – the West Bank and the northern border with Lebanon.

The Ministry of Defense ordered the evacuation of residents of the largest Israeli city near the Lebanese border, Kiryat Shmona. Clashes on the border between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement have been the deadliest since full-scale war in 2006.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said 13 people were killed, including five children, when Israeli troops raided and launched airstrikes on the Nur Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm.

The territory, where Palestinians have limited self-rule under Israeli military occupation, has seen the deadliest clashes since the end of the second intifada uprising in 2005.

Reports from Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Washington and Jerusalem; Written by Peter Graff; Edited by Philip Fletcher

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Senior correspondent with nearly 25 years of experience in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.

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