The Hamas-controlled interior ministry reported that a number of displaced individuals who had sought refuge at a church compound in the Gaza Strip were killed and injured following an Israeli airstrike on Thursday night.
The strike left a “large number of martyrs and injured” at the compound of the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, 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.
The Israeli army when contacted told AFP it was checking the reported strike.
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 neighborhood.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of 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.
The church is not far from the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in the Gaza Strip where a strike killed at least 471 people on Tuesday according to Hamas authorities.
While Hamas has accused an Israeli air strike for the killings, the Israeli army has blamed a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket for causing the deaths.
Gaza has been hit by a relentless barrage of Israeli fire in retaliation for a Hamas militant 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.