IDF Confirms It Damaged a Church in a Strike on a Hamas Command Center

Civil defense teams and residents continue search and rescue efforts in the historical Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, where civilians took shelter, after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Gaza on October 20, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Last Thursday and Friday, multiple media outlets reported that an Israeli airstrike damaged the Church of Saint Porphyrius—a Greek Orthodox church constructed in Gaza almost 1,000 years ago—causing multiple casualties. The Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George the Great Martyr, to which the Gazan church belongs, confirmed the report, stating that bombs hit two church walls and that an estimated 150 to 200 people were killed. The order later revised its death toll, stating on Friday that approximately 20 to 25 people had been confirmed dead, some of whom have been named.

Former Rep. Justin Amash—a Republican-turned-Libertarian from Michigan who is of Palestinian descent—tweeted on Friday that several of his relatives were killed during the strike, including his infant second cousin, and later posted a video of the damage sustained at the church.

In the video, the church sanctuary itself is shown to have been spared by the blast. However, the adjacent church annex collapsed, killing a number of people sheltering inside.

In a Friday press release, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem strongly condemned the Israeli airstrike: “The Patriarchate emphasizes that 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 thirteen days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored.”

Archbishop Alexion, the leader of the Church of Saint Porphyrius, could not be directly reached for comment. However, a representative of the Order of St. George—which partners with the Church of Saint Porphyrius—relayed a message from the archbishop to The Dispatch Fact Check. “He didn’t give us any numbers on the actual damages, and he didn’t give us any numbers on the actual injured,” the representative said. “He was very clear with us that his priorities, in order, are getting the people there both food and medicine if they need it, getting their houses rebuilt, and then rebuilding the church. … He’s so much more concerned with getting the people what they need than even how many of them there are; all he cares about is taking care of the people.”

Unlike the recent explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, for which Israeli officials denied responsibility, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that they had inadvertently damaged the Church of Saint Porphyrius in a strike. “Earlier tonight (October 20th), IDF fighter jets targeted the command and control center belonging to a Hamas terrorist, involved in the launching of rockets and mortars toward Israel. The command and control center was used to carry out attacks against Israel, and contained infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization,” an IDF spokesperson told The Dispatch Fact Check. “As a result of the IDF strike, a wall of a Church in the area of the center was damaged. We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review.”

The official emphasized that any damage to the church was unintentional, arguing “Hamas intentionally embeds its assets in civilian areas and uses the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields.”

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