The historic Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza, one of the world’s oldest churches, was damaged Thursday night in an air strike that killed at least 16 Palestinians sheltered inside.
The blast was first reported by Gaza-based Palestinian Ministry. Investigators at the Washington Post geolocated the location of the strike based on a video showing Palestinians searching through the rubble of the building in Gaza City.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has blamed Israel for the attack. The Israel Defense Forces told the Post that a missile targeting an alleged Hamas hideout “damaged the wall of a church in the area” and that it is “aware of reports on casualties.” The IDF is reportedly “reviewing” the incident.
The foundation of the Church of St. Porphyrius dates to the 5th century, and the current structure was completed in the 12th century. It is named after the former bishop of Gaza, Saint Porphyrius, and was located atop the place he is believed to have died in BCE 420. Like the few remaining structures of the Crusader age, it was resplendently decorated inside and built with thickly fortified walls. The church served as a longtime shelter for Gaza’s Christian minority and Muslim community.
During the 2014 bombardment of Gaza, the church welcomed some 1,000 Palestinian Muslims who fled Israeli shells, per Reuters.
At the time of Thursday’s blast, hundreds of displaced Palestinians were camped inside. As of this morning, rescuers were still searching the rubble for survivors.
The Order of St. George, an associated order of the Church of St. Porphyrius, released a statement today, saying, “Archbishop Alexios appears to have been located and is alive, but we don’t know if he is injured.” The church spokesperson said that the blast hit “two church halls where the refugees, including children and babies, were sleeping.”