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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday deplored the death of two women in a Catholic parish in Gaza, where he said “unarmed civilians” were being targeted by shootings and bombings.
He was speaking a day after the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said a Christian mother and daughter had been shot dead by an Israeli soldier on the grounds of the Gaza Strip’s only Catholic church.
“I continue receiving very serious and sad news about Gaza,” the pope said at the end of the Angelus prayer. “A mother and her daughter... were killed and other people were wounded by the shooters.
“This has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities,” the pope added.
The Israeli army told AFP that it had on Saturday been contacted by church representatives about an incident in the Holy Family Parish, but said that “no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised.
“A review of the IDF’s operational findings support this,” it added.
Israel’s army said it “does not target civilians, no matter their religion.
“The IDF takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness — especially churches — considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East,” it added.
Saturday’ statement from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said: “Around noon (1000 GMT) today... a sniper of the IDF (Israeli army) murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”
Christian families have been sheltering there since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, the patriarchate said.
“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the Sister’s Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” it added.
Seven more people were wounded by gunfire as they tried to protect others, the statement said.
“Some are saying ‘this is terrorism and war,’” the pontiff said. “Yes, it is war, it is terrorism... let us pray to the Lord for peace,” he added.
According to the Vatican press agency, citing Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the victims were an elderly woman and her daughter.
The patriarchate said no warning had been given before the shooting started, adding that they were “shot in cold blood.”
The Gaza strip has been hard hit by bombardments and ground operations carried out by the Israeli army since the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli territory.
The attack saw about 1,139 people killed, mostly civilians, and 250 hostages taken, according to the Israeli authorities’ latest figures.
Aiming to eliminate Hamas, Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment of Gaza, alongside a ground invasion, that has killed more than 18,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas government.
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