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‘Beyond desperate’ situation for Christians sheltering in Gaza church, says UK lawmaker with family trapped inside

By Isa Soares, Heather Chen and Kareem El Damanhoury, CNN

(CNN) — The situation has become “beyond desperate” for people sheltering inside a church in Gaza where an Israeli military sniper allegedly shot and killed two women, British lawmaker Layla Moran, whose family is among hundreds trapped there, has told CNN.

Moran, a UK member of parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon, said 300 people, including children, were inside the Holy Family Parish church in Gaza City as Israel’s bombardment of the enclave continues into its tenth week.

“The situation has massively deteriorated within the last week. There are snipers shooting at people. What is happening is beyond terrifying,” Moran told CNN’s Isa Soares.

“These are Christians seeking sanctuary the week before Christmas, having been there for more than 60 days… who have been told by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that they need to evacuate (and) it’s unclear why or where – there are no churches outside Gaza City.”

The plight of those sheltering in the church has received growing international attention after the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem accused an Israeli military sniper of shooting dead a mother and a daughter there.

IDF tanks also targeted the convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, part of the church’s compound that also houses 54 disabled people, the patriarchate said. The building’s generator, fuel resources, solar panels and water tanks were also destroyed, it added.

The two women had been walking to the convent when gunfire erupted. “One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” the patriarchate said. Seven others were also shot and wounded in the attack at the church complex, it said.

The IDF appeared to deny responsibility for the killings.

“Representatives of the church contacted the IDF regarding explosions that were heard near the church. During the dialogue between the IDF and representatives of the community, no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised,” the IDF statement read. “A review of the IDF’s operational findings supports this.”

The IDF also said it “takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness — especially churches — considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East.”

“The IDF only targets terrorists and terror infrastructure and does not target civilians, no matter their religion… (and) takes vast measures to avoid harm to uninvolved civilians,” the statement added.

Growing criticism

Israel’s military has faced growing international criticism over the shootings.

“Unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire and this has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities,” Pope Francis said Sunday.

British Minister of State for the Middle East Tariq Ahmad also condemned the killings and called on Israel to abide by humanitarian law.

“Shocked that civilians taking refuge in a church in northern Gaza have been killed and others injured,” Ahmad said in a statement on Sunday.

“Israel must abide by international humanitarian law. Civilians must be protected,” he added. “A sustainable ceasefire, leading to sustainable peace, is urgently needed.”

Several members of Moran’s extended family took refuge in the church in the first week after October 7.

Her family is down to their “last can of corn” as the situation deteriorates, Moran said, calling for the Israeli government and military to stop targeting the church.

She shared that she had already lost a family member, who died from dehydration.

“He was 81 and was fit and well before all of this and he passed away because he was not able to get to a hospital,” she said.

“I’m not sure (my remaining family members) are going to survive.

“I would simply say this to the Israeli government, this is the week before Christmas, is this the time you want to pick a fight with the Pope? Is this the time that you want to forcibly displace Palestinians from where they’ve chosen to seek sanctuary?”

Moran reiterated there had never been a Hamas presence at the church. “The assertion that Hamas is operating from that church is baseless.”

“There are children there. The women who are killed, if anyone dares to look at the pictures, could not look less like Hamas fighters,” she added.

The-CNN-Wire
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With previous reporting from CNN’s Christopher Lamb.

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