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GAZA STRIP: The Hamas-controlled interior ministry said several displaced people sheltering at a church compound in Gaza were killed and injured after an Israeli strike late Thursday.

The strike left a “large number of martyrs and injured” at the compound of the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church in Gaza City, the ministry said.

Witnesses told AFP the strike appeared to have been aimed at a target close to the place of worship where many Gaza residents had taken refuge as the war raged in the Palestinian enclave.

Contacted by AFP, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said its fighter jets had hit a command and control centre involved in launching rockets and mortars toward Israel.

“As a result of the IDF strike, a wall of a church in the area was damaged,” it said, adding “we are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review”.

Witnesses said the strike damaged the facade of the church and caused an adjacent building to collapse, adding that many injured people were evacuated to hospital.

Saint Porphyrius is the oldest church still in use in Gaza and is located in the city’s historic neighbourhood.

‘A war crime’

The Orthodox Patriarchate of occupied Jerusalem expressed its “strongest condemnation” of the strike at its church compound.

“Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” the Patriarchate said in a statement.

Biden expresses outrage over Gaza hospital attack, directs team to investigate

The church is not far from the Al-Ahli Arab hospital, which was hit by a deadly airstrike on Tuesday.

Both sides in the war have traded blame for the bloody carnage, but neither the provenance of the strike nor the death toll could immediately be independently verified.

Hamas accused Israel of hitting the hospital during its massive bombing campaign, and the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has put the death toll at 471, though that number is contested.

Israel’s military has blamed a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket – a version of events backed by the United States, whose intelligence community has estimated between 100 and 300 people were killed.

Explaining the damage done to the church, the IDF stressed that “Hamas intentionally embeds its assets in civilian areas and uses the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields”.

Gaza has been hit by a relentless barrage of Israeli fire in retaliation for a Hamas attack on October 7, which Israel says killed at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

Israeli bombing since has killed at least 3,785 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas health ministry.

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