Orthodox Christians in Gaza mark sombre Easter Sunday

Palestinians say 'no room for joy' as worshippers shelter from Israeli air strikes

A Palestinian Orthodox Christian priest carries lit candles as he guides the Easter mass outside the church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City. AFP
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Gaza's Orthodox Christian community marked a sombre Easter Sunday amid continued Israeli air strikes as Palestinians await the latest news on efforts to secure a ceasefire in the war-torn enclave.

About 100 families sheltering in Gaza city's Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius held prayer services on Sunday morning, but no other festivities were planned to mark the occasion.

“Sadness hangs over the church. There is no room for joy and celebration, in light of the massive destruction, continuous bombing, and casualties,” Imad Al Sayegh, chairman of the board of directors of the Union of Churches Association in Gaza, told Turkey’s Anadolu agency.

Mr Al Sayegh, who fled to the church amid air strikes elsewhere in Gaza city, said there was “no sign of joy” this Easter.

Gaza was home to an already tiny Christian community of about 1,000 people before the war began.

Eighteen people were killed in a strike on Saint Porphyrius, one of the world's oldest churches, in October.

“Israel did not differentiate in its fierce war between old and young, between Muslims and Christians. The aggression targeted the Palestinian presence,” Jamil Tarizi, whose son was killed in the strike, told the official Wafa news agency.

Gaza's Christians were also prevented from travelling to Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas and Easter, he added.

It comes as Christians in Jerusalem held muted Holy Fire celebrations on Saturday amid a continued travel ban from the occupied West Bank.

Several Palestinians attended the ceremony, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, despite restrictions and military barriers erected by the army around the Old City, Wafa reported.

The flame was lit at the church before being taken to Ramallah, Al Bireh, Bethlehem, Jericho, and other parts of the occupied West Bank, it added.

Palestinians awaited the latest news regarding months of ceasefire talks, amid reports that a deal may be close.

The talks are in a “crucial stage,” sources told The National, and hinge upon Israel abandoning its refusal to end the war.

Hamas is insisting on a lasting ceasefire and a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to pledge to end the fighting.

He has also vowed to invade Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border sheltering more than a million displaced Palestinians, “with or without” a ceasefire deal.

Mr Netanyahu's commitment to invading Rafah, applauded by right-wing members of his government, has fuelled public anger and protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Hundreds of people rallied against Mr Netanyahu on Saturday night, calling for early elections and demanding he agree to a hostage deal and abandon plans for an operation in Rafah.

Relatives of hostages still held in Gaza were among those protesting.

“It is no longer clear, six months in, if Hamas wants the hostages released to ensure its survival or our terrible government wants to fail them to ensure its survival,” Haaretz quoted Yehud Cohen, the father of hostage Nimrod Cohen, as saying in a demonstration in the central city of Rehovot.

Updated: May 05, 2024, 10:51 AM