Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza
At least 16 people were killed on Friday during an Israeli air strike on a centuries-old Christian church in Gaza where at least 450 people were sheltering.
Dozens were wounded at the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, although the exact figure has yet to be determined because rescuers were still searching for survivors, a spokesman told The National.
“One man lost his wife, daughter and granddaughter,” said Father Issa Musleh of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. “Families are being erased.”
The church dates back to the fifth century AD and stood not far from Al Ahli Arab Hospital, where a bombing on Tuesday killed at least 470 people.
“This is a heritage site,” Father Musleh said. “They are trying to erase our history. They want us to not have a past.”
Saint Porphyrius is the oldest church still in use in Gaza and is located in the city's historic neighbourhood. It is also one of the oldest in the world.
“We condemn in the strongest terms what is happening to our holy sites – the mosques and churches of Gaza,” Father Musleh said.
“Hospitals are unable to cope or perform their regular duties any more without food, fuel or even medicines.
“[The Israelis] are trying to put pressure on us. But we are not going anywhere.”
Witnesses told The National hundreds of people were inside the church seeking shelter from Israeli air strikes.
“We were inside the church and suddenly the shelling hit the building, which is a single-storey,” Tark Saba, a Gaza resident who had taken refuge with his family in the church, told The National.
Although his father, mother and two brothers were injured and taken to hospital, he was assisting the civil defence to search for survivors.
“ I am trying to find some of our things, but our priority is to pull people from under the rubble,” he said.
An injured woman told The National they felt safe staying there when “suddenly without any warning the shelling started. A whole floor fell on our heads.”
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed its “strongest condemnation” of the strike.
“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 air strikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” the Patriarchate said.