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Latin Patriarchal Delegation Visits Gaza: “Like Cities Devastated by World War II”

© MAJDI FATHI / NURPHOTO

Palestine, Gaza : Palestinians inspect the destroyed house in Beit Hanoun , which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 1, 2014. Israeli shelling near the southern Gaza town of Rafah killed at least 25 people on Friday, the Palestinian Interior Ministry said, as a ceasefire that went into effect only hours earlier appeared to be crumbling.Israel accused Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups of violating the U.S.- and U.N.-mediated truce, but did not elaborate, amid Israeli media reports that gunmen had fired at Israeli soldiers in the Rafah area. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto)

Agenzia Fides - published on 09/03/14

Life struggling to get back to normal, but hope is wearing thin.

A delegation from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem toured war-torn areas of Gaza days after hostilities ended there. 

“We visited the district of Sajaya, where 80 percent of homes and other buildings have been reduced to heaps of rubble," said Bishop William Shomali, patriarchal Vicar of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins. "We saw things which can only be compared with the situation of cities raised to the ground during the Second World War.”

Bishop Shomali visted Gaza city Monday, together with the administrator general of the Patriarchate, Father Imad Twal, and the chancellor, Father George Ayoub.

During the few hours spent in Gaza the delegation was able to meet members of the small Christian community there: the assistant parish priest in the city and the sisters belonging to three congregations operating in Gaza, and Greek Orthodox Bishop Alexios, who has also remained at his post all through the period of Israeli army incursions.

“The Orthodox Bishop gave us a truly fraternal welcome and he praised the efficient work of Caritas, the Pontifical Mission and Catholic Relief Service for assisting the people during and after weeks of military operations,” Bishop Shomali said.

The patriarchal delegation also went to see the Anglican Hospital which in the past two months has assisted more than 4,000 injured persons.

Bishop Shomali said that locals are relieved that the ceasefire is holding. Fishermen, with permits to fish inside six miles from the coast, come in every morning laden with catch, and by eight o’clock have sold everything. The possibility to provide food with the work of their own hands, and the prospect of finding more work in the task of rebuilding, helps kindle hope.

But he added that locals have now seen three military campaigns against Gaza, each time with greater destruction. "It will be years before the city can return to its previous situation," he said. "This feeds discouragement, dries up hope for the future. Even in the small Christian community, many dream of moving away.”

The delegation did not meet political representatives, but in conversation with Christians and Muslims they sensed growing hostility towards Israel, because, Bishop Shomali remarked, “war can never sow love”.

At the same time, consensus regarding Hamas—criticized for its strategy even by the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, appears by no means unanimous.

"There were even some, who with bitter irony, remarked: now Gaza is destroyed, and all we have gained is the chance to eat a little fish,” the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem concluded.

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