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Gaza Strip: the Pope’s renewed appeal. Sister Saleh (Parish): “The world powers are gambling with our lives”

Yesterday, Pope Francis renewed his humanitarian appeal for Gaza, where Israel's ground operations are expanding. From the Latin parish of the Strip comes the voice of Sister Saleh: “Who among the powerful of the world will listen to him? They are gambling with the lives of our dead, our children, our elderly.” In the meantime, the premises of the Patriarchate's school have been made available for the shelter of displaced persons from the Greek Catholic cultural centre, which is in danger of being bombed. A Caritas Jerusalem aid project underway

(Foto AFP/SIR)

“In Gaza, may space be opened to guarantee humanitarian aid, and may the hostages be released right away. Let no one abandon the possibility that the weapons might be silenced – let there be a ceasefire.”

At the end of the Angelus prayer yesterday, October 29, Pope Francis made yet another heartfelt appeal for pace. The Pope’s words reached the Christian community of Gaza, sheltered in the Holy Family parish complex. “We are grateful to the Pope for his appeals, but I wonder who among the powerful of the earth is willing to listen to him,” Sister Nabila Saleh, who has been working for days in the parish with other nuns to help the displaced, told SIR.

“All world leaders are gambling with our lives, with the lives of our dead, our children, our elderly.”

“Is this justice? What do the powerful of the world want from us? They have no heart. There is nothing left in Gaza. There is nowhere safe. Yesterday afternoon there was bombing outside the church.” The humanitarian situation is bound to get worse. Sister Saleh explains: “Yesterday, Israel ordered the evacuation of the school and the cultural centre of the Greek Orthodox Church, which serves 3,000 people, because they planned to carry out bombings. To give them shelter, we opened our patriarchal school, which has also been looted. Three young men are now keeping watch over it.”

“What’s important now is to stay alive. We mourn the deaths of so many of our students and their families. They were young people brought up in tolerance and dialogue, they were not fanatics, they were good young people.”

Humanitarian truce. Coordinated international efforts for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza are being called for from many quarters. A White House statement said that Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi have “committed to the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza.”  They also discussed “the importance of protecting civilian lives, respecting international humanitarian law, and ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other country”. In a similar phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US President reiterated that “Israel has every right and responsibility to defend its citizens from terrorism”, but stressed the “need to do so in accordance with international humanitarian law, which prioritises the protection of civilian life.” For its part, Israel committed to allowing 100 aid trucks a day into Gaza through the Rafah crossing. The aid will include a limited amount of fuel, which the UN will distribute to Gaza’s vital humanitarian infrastructure, such as hospitals, to prevent Hamas from accessing it. But as the population struggles through the rubble of badly damaged neighbourhoods, this is a drop in the ocean of their needs. There are reports of food raids on UNRWA warehouses in Deir el-Balah (south of Gaza City), with Hamas police busy recovering looted quantities. Many bakers who have been victims of violence have threatened to stop making bread unless they are protected by the police. There are worrying signs of precarious law enforcement after three weeks of war and siege. On X, the Palestinian Red Crescent accused Israel of deliberately bombing hospitals. According to local media, rockets were fired into the area of al-Quds hospital in Tel el-Hawa, forcing medical staff, displaced people and patients to evacuate. “More than 400 people are being treated in our hospital, many of them in intensive care, and moving them would mean killing them. That is why we refuse the evacuation order,” the Palestinian Red Crescent added.

Tragic situation. Save the Children released figures on the number of children killed in the last three weeks of war, citing data from the Gaza and Israeli health ministries: “More than 3,257 children have been reported killed since 7 October, including at least 3,195 in Gaza, 33 in the West Bank and 29 in Israel. Children account for more than 40 per cent of the 7,703 people killed in Gaza and more than a third of all victims in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. The death toll is likely to be much higher, with some 1,000 missing children believed to be buried under the rubble in Gaza. This toll is expected to rise as the Israeli military ground operations continue.

A Caritas project. Caritas Jerusalem is helping the population with a humanitarian project starting on November 1 (running until December 31) for the approximately 1,000 members of the Holy Family Latin Parish in Gaza. The aim of the aid programme is “to provide treatment for the patients, to meet the humanitarian needs of the displaced persons through the provision of food and hygiene kits, as well as the provision of cash for multiple purchases, but also to improve the mental well-being of the staff through the provision of counselling and social support via remote technology.” The Caritas Jerusalem project is financed with €250,000 from various countries. Caritas Jerusalem has also published the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the beginning of the hostilities in Gaza, estimated at over 1.4 million. This figure includes nearly 629,000 people sheltering in 150 UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) facilities, 121,750 people sheltering in hospitals, churches and other public buildings, and nearly 79,000 people sheltering in 70 non-UNRWA schools. In addition, the Gaza Ministry of Social Development estimates that some 700,000 IDPs are living with host families.

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