International News

Israel Calls for Entire Gaza City Evacuation; U.S. Bishop Urges Places of Refuge Not Be Targeted

A woman and child walk among debris in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, June 9, 2024, aftermath of Israeli strikes at the area, where Israeli hostages were rescued, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. (OSV News photo/Abed Khaled, Reuters)

By OSV News

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli military July 10 called for all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south, as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace urged civilians not be targeted and “remain outside the sphere of combat.”

Dozens of civilians have been killed in recent days in multiple Israeli military attacks on facilities where people shelter, like schools. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza.

OSV News reached out to the Gaza City Catholic community through Holy Family Parish priests to ask how the evacuation order may affect them and is awaiting an answer.

In a statement released July 10, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace expressed his solidarity with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in condemning the targeting of civilians and expressed grave concern over news of the attack on the Catholic school in Gaza, “a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.”

“I urge in strongest terms that civilians remain outside the sphere of combat, while also praying for peace and an immediate end to hostilities,” said Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the St. Louis-based Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.

The stepped-up Israel military activity came as U.S, Egyptian and Qatari mediators met with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks seeking a long-elusive cease-fire deal with Gaza’s Hamas militant group in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages it is holding, The Associated Press reported.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a strong condemnation after the Israeli military targeted a Catholic school in Gaza that killed four people July 6, including a senior Hamas official.

In a statement published July 7, the patriarchate said it was monitoring reports of a strike on Holy Family School, which “has, since the beginning of the war, been a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.”

“The Latin Patriarchate condemns, in the strongest terms, the targeting of civilians or any belligerent actions that fall short of ensuring that civilians remain outside the combat scene,” the statement read.

The patriarchate called for a cease-fire agreement “that would put an immediate end to the horrifying bloodbath and humanitarian catastrophe in the region.”

In a July 9 press statement, Pope Francis reacted to the attacks on the school in Gaza and on the children’s hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine, that left the world speechless after little cancer patients were targeted by Russia July 8.

“The pope expresses his deep distress at the escalation of violence. While expressing sympathy for the victims and the innocent wounded, he hopes and prays that concrete paths can soon be identified that will put an end to the ongoing conflicts,” the Vatican’s Press Office news release said.

In Gaza City, large areas have been flattened by previous Israeli assaults. The United Nations said about 300,000 Palestinians have remained in the hard-hit north, with the bulk of those said to be in Gaza City.

Holy Family Parish and School shelter the remaining community of Catholics in the Gaza Strip.

After his recent visit to Gaza City May 15-19, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch, said there are currently some 450 Christians and the 60 severely disabled children from a home staffed by Missionaries of Charity living in the Holy Family Parish compound, while another 150 Christians and 40 Muslim families were in the Greek Orthodox compound. Some 40-50 Christian families are in southern Gaza, in Khan Yunis, and unable to reach the church compounds, he said.

The Israeli bombardment July 10 hit four houses in Deir al-Balah and the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, killing 20 Palestinians.

Among the dead were six children and three women, according to officials at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the casualties were taken. An Associated Press reporter counted the bodies.