The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has released images of the church compound that Christian leaders allege was bombed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa published a letter last week alleging two Christian women were shot, and a convent was bombed by the IDF on Saturday at Holy Family Parish in Gaza.
IDF spokespersons have rebuffed the assertions, saying the claims "do match the conclusion of an initial review that found the IDF troopers were targeting Hamas spotters in enemy lookouts."
The patriarchate wrote in a social media post on Monday, "Based on our report of December 16, 2023, concerning the deaths and injuries of a number of citizens in the Latin convent of Gaza, as well as the serious damage to the structures, we are displaying some of the photographs we received."
The images were reportedly taken by Christians in the convent as the alleged attack was unfolding.
"It is time to end this senseless conflict," the patriarchate wrote.
The photos were published on the same day that White House officials acknowledged the accusations from both the Latin Patriarchate and the Holy See regarding violence towards the Holy Family Church.
National Security Council Coordinator Jack Kirby told reporters Monday that the White House is "closely following these alarming reports coming out of the church compound this weekend."
Kirby also specifically mentioned the patriarch's claims of two women shot by an IDF sniper while inside the Holy Family Church complex.
"Let me just, right off the bat, as I’ve said before: Every civilian death is a tragedy. We’ve been very clear that we believe every effort possible must be made to prevent civilian casualties," Kirby said. "Unfortunately, it appears that, in this case, a mother and a daughter lost their lives. And our hearts go out to the families who are grieving their loved ones."
Pizzaballa, the head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land and a cardinal, wrote in his urgent Saturday letter describing the events that the victims — identified as a woman named Nahida and her daughter Samar — were "shot and killed as they walked to the Sisters' Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety."
Kirby said of U.S. communications with the IDF, "We have raised our concerns about this particular incident with the Israeli government and about the need for those who have injuries or have been wounded to be able to be safely evacuated, so they can receive appropriate medical treatment."
The National Security Council spokesman clarified that there is no evidence that the alleged attacks were "making it an aim" to kill civilians in the conflict.
"As I’ve also said, with respect to this church issue, we are deeply concerned about it; we have raised specific concerns about it with our Israeli counterparts, and we’ll continue to do so," Kirby said. "But we haven’t seen any evidence that the Israelis are making it an aim of war and a tactical, operational necessity to go out and slaughter innocent people."
Multiple other Christian parishioners were allegedly wounded in the attack, which Pizzaballa claims was unprompted and without warning despite a lack of combatants in the complex.
"Seven more people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others inside the church compound," the Latin patriarch wrote. "No warning was given, no notification was provided. They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there were no belligerents."
Holy Family Church is the only Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip and one of the last remaining Christian communities in the region.
The parish compound is home to the Missionaries of Charity, an order of female religious members founded by Mother Theresa dedicated to serving the sick and disabled.
Pizzaballa reported that a rocket fired from an Israeli tank during the assault struck the nuns' convent, disrupting the operations of the order's care for approximately 54 disabled civilians living in the compound.
"The building's generator (the only source of electricity) and the fuel resources were destroyed," Pizzaballa wrote. "The house was damaged by the resulting explosion and massive fire. Two more rockets, fired by an IDF tank, targeted the same Convent and rendered the home uninhabitable."
The reports have been amplified by outrage at the Vatican.
"I continue receiving very serious and sad news about Gaza. 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, sisters," Pope Francis said at an Angelus address this week.
"Some are saying, ‘This is terrorism and war.’ Yes, it is war, it is terrorism. That is why Scripture says that ‘God puts an end to war… the bow he breaks and the spear he snaps,’" the pontiff continued. "Let us pray to the Lord for peace."
The IDF continues to dispute the allegations.
"Following the reports of two women that were shot in the area of the Latin Church in Shejaya, the IDF has finished conducting an initial review of the incident. The review found that on December 17th, in the early afternoon, Hamas terrorists launched a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church," the IDF has said following the accusations.
They added, "The troops then identified three people in the vicinity, operating as spotters for Hamas by guiding their attacks in the direction of the IDF troopers. In response, our troops fired towards the spotters and hits were identified."