Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

ISPT0372

Incident date

October 19, 2023

Location

محيط كنيسة القديس برفيريوس, Vicinity of Saint Porphyrius Church, Gaza, the Gaza Strip

Geolocation

31.503694, 34.462428 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Exact location (via Airwars) level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

On October 19th 2023, at around 8:30 pm, a declared Israeli strike hit a building adjacent to the centuries-old Greek Orthodox St. Porphyrius Church on Omar Al-Mukhtar Street, in Gaza city. The blast destroyed parts of the church complex where hundreds of displaced civilians were reportedly taking shelter.

Airwars identified the names of at least 23 civilians killed, including ten children, eight women and five men across three families. Sources reported at least 18 more civilians were injured, though by some accounts there were ‘dozens’ of wounded civilians, and potentially hundreds more under the rubble.

The three families identified with multiple civilian casualties were the Al-Amash family, Al-Souri family and Al-Tarazi family. The Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine (HCC) described scenes with “entire families whose names were erased from civil records, children whose body parts were found under the rubble, and a girl no more than 4 months old who was found martyred in the arms of her grandmother who was also martyred.”

Sources described St. Porphyrius Church as the oldest church in Gaza, and potentially of the oldest churches in the world. According to HCC, “the original building dates back to the year 425 AD, and it was renovated in 1856.”

On Twitter/X, @AvichayAdraee, the IDF Spokesperson, declared that Israeli forces intended to strike a target adjacent to the church, allegedly used as a Hamas command center. The said statement read: “The IDF can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of this raid”. Another Israeli forces statement quoted by Al Jazeera further highlighted that as a result of the strike, “a wall of a church in the area was damaged,” and that the IDF were “aware of reports on casualties” and that “the incident is under review.” As the IDF did not officially acknowledge any civilian harm as a result of the bombing, the civilian harm status of this incident has been graded as “fair” by Airwars, and not “confirmed”.

The Holy Orthodox Foundation of Saint George, quoted by @ytirawi on Twitter/X, claimed that Israeli forces targeted “the hall of the church with four missiles”, while The Guardian reported that “a missile brought down part of the complex”. Ibrahim Al-Souri, a survivor, interviewed by Al-Jazeera, told the media that “two raids” hit the building.

Victims identified

Local sources, religious authorities such as The Church of Holy Land,  and relatives of victims on social media provided obituaries and published lists of names of victims either killed or injured, alongside pictures of them. Members of at least three family units, Al-Amsh family, Al-Souri family and Al-Tarazi family were identified by local sources. Justin Amash, on Twitter/X a relative of the Al-Amash family, said the bombing “killed multiple members of three connected Orthodox Christian families, who are my relatives. They are my dad’s first cousins and their spouses, children, and in-laws. May their memories be eternal.”

Based on these sources, Airwars identified the names of at least 23 victims killed, including eight women, ten children and five men, and one woman, one child and one man injured, as the following:

The Al-Amash family

Yara Grace Al-Amash (Al-Amsh) was reportedly killed alongside her daughter Juliet Sobhi Al-Souri (Al-Suri, Al-Suwari) and her son, a baby identified as George Sobhi Al-Souri. A relative of Yara, @justinamash, posted a picture of an infant, identified as George, covered in dust, with his eyes closed, being pulled out from the rubble, carried by a man. @justinamash said “This is my second cousin George being pulled from the rubble at Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza. This beautiful baby committed no crimes, harmed no person. May his memory be eternal.” At the funerals held the next day, one woman showed a picture of an infant to the cameraman in a video published by @TRTArabic, saying “this is George, everyone, this is George” while another voice can be heard saying “Where is the little boy?”.

Yara was described as the wife of Sobhi Al-Souri, who, according to HCC, was wounded in the same attack and transferred to the hospital to be treated for a foot injury. The same source said that “as a result of the lack of medical resources and the lack of appropriate treatment, the doctors expect that there will be a need to amputate one of his feet.”

Local sources reported the deaths of  Marwan Salim Tarazi, his wife Nahid Tarazi, and their granddaughter, the infant Joelle Attala Al-Amsh. Joelle Attala Al-Amash is likely the daughter of Attala Al-Amash. 4 month-old Samaa Al-Amash was also reportedly killed. She was described as the daughter of Attala Al-Amash and his wife Miral. According to HCC, Miral also lost both her mother and father in the bombing – their names were not provided by the source. Miral’s family name, which could not be found, could presumably be Tarazi, and her parents are likely to be Marwan Salim Tarazi and his wife Nahid Tarazi, as these civilians have been described as Joelle’s grandparents.

Sources further identified Grace Issa Al-Amash as one of those killed.

The Al-Souri family (also referred to as Al Suwari)

Tariq Sami Al-Souri was reportedly killed with his wife Lisa Walid Al-Souri, and their son Issa Tariq Al-Souri.

Ghada Al-Souri was also counted as one of the killed victims, alongside her children – 15 year-old Suhail Ramez Al-Souri, 7 year-old Majd Ramez Al-Souri, and 9 year-old Julie Ramez Al-Souri. According to local sources, Ghada was married to 45 year-old Ramez Al-Souri. PBS interviewed Ramez who explained that strikes scared his child Majd, and that his son “missed playing soccer with his school friends. [Majd] was devastated that the war had canceled his Christian family’s … trip to Nazareth, “Baba, where can we go?” Majd asked again and again when airstrikes roared”. Souri told PBS that Majd calmed down when they arrived at the church to take shelter. PBS reported: “They prayed and sang. (…) Majd was found beneath the rubble with his hands around his mother’s neck. His face was completely burned. “My children just wanted peace and stability,” said Souri, his voice cracking. “All I cared about was that they were happy.””

HCC similarly explained that Ramez lost his three children, and described his farewell message: “My daughter was [as beautiful as] the moon, it was crazy. They killed her.” An elderly woman, whose name was not provided, presumably Ramez’s mother, can be seen crying in despair in a video published by @ajmubasher, saying “The loves of my heart, the children of my son, all of them are dead! Ask God to have mercy on them! How could I want to go home? How can I come back without them? Where could I want to go? I can’t see our home again, I don’t want to go home! They bury me with them, bury me with them!” Farida.tarazi posted an obituary which read “With hearts filled with pain, we mourn the children of my dear nephew Ramez with the martyrdom of all three of his children in the bombing that targeted the church” alongside a picture of three children side by side, smiling.

Ramez also lost “his cousins and their wives from the Al-Amash family” according to HCC, though their names were not provided by the source. As Airwars identified members of Al-Amash family killed but cannot be sure these victims were included, two men and two women were counted as a minimum in Airwars’s maximum casualty estimate to account for them.

Abdel Nour Sami Al-Souri was killed with his wife Viola Grace Al-Amsh, and their infant daughter Alia Abdelnour Al-Souri. Yousef.alashqer said on Facebook that the whole family was killed, and that  “Abdel Nour was named in the latest coordination list, and he was not able to travel like any other people, and we agreed to go out together if the opportunity allowed.” This presumably is a reference to the official list for those permitted to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

HCC added that Abdelnour had “recently completed his master’s studies and his martyr wife wrote, “I wish you continued success and hope for a doctorate.” Viola has been described as a relative of Yara (also killed, see mention above) in an obituary posted by @justinamashm.

The Tarazi family

Dr Suleiman Jamil Tarazi, a 35 year-old dentist was also killed, while his wife Lili and their son, a three year-old Jad, were both reportedly injured. According to HCC, “the last person to be found was the dentist, Suleiman Tarazi, and his wife was unable to say goodbye to him due to a very serious injury to her spine, and his children were not able to say goodbye to him due their state of panic.”

Rana Mourtaja, a friend of Al-Tarazi family, said Lili was in “intensive care suffering from various fractures in her body”, while Jad was being treated as he sustained “multiple fractures” . She described Lili as her childhood friend. Rana wrote: “[Lili’s] small family consists of four people, her husband, Suleiman, and Jamil, her eldest son, born in April 2017, and Jad, born in July 2019. (…) Language has not helped me since day one. I cannot formulate a single sentence to console any of my friends. May God have mercy on Suleiman, give patience to the entire family, heal Lili and her son, and hasten their relief. How do all these horrors cram into one geographical spot called Gaza? How do I formulate a phrase in which I console my old friend with the tragedy of her life? How will Jamil and Jad understand that daddy was shrouded, mercifully wrapped and buried deep in the ground?”. @OsaidesserMD said that Suleiman’s wife and children were critically injured but the medical condition of Jamil, their second son, was unclear.

Dr Suleiman Tarazi was also mourned by Nadia Abu Nahla, who published a message on Facebook: “Goodbye, Suleiman. Goodbye, our hearts are aching. May God have mercy on you, martyrs of the Church of Saint Porphyrius”.

According to Rana Abo Farha, other members of Suleiman’s family were also killed including Elaine Helmi Tarazi. Muntaser Tarzi announced Elaine’s death on Facebook, saying she worked as the “director of several public schools”. She was described as an “excellent educator” by Nadine.shaheen, and as working as a nanny for Al Tarazi family by HCC.

On November 27th, William.tarazi posted an obituary, announcing that the elderly woman Eva Salim Musa Tarazi succumbed to wounds sustained in the bombing of the church.

Two other victims killed were identified as the child, Christine Al-Turk (killed), and Nasseem Saba.

Washington Post quoting The Order of St. George indicated that the “Archbishop Alexios appears to have been located and is alive, but we don’t know if he is injured.” No other information could be found on him.

Unnamed victims

As in many incidents of civilian harm, not all victims were named by sources.

@Kahlissee on social media said that “a married couple and their newborn daughter were among 18 Palestinians killed when Israel bombed Gaza’s oldest church.” This source could refer to the deaths of Abdel Nour, Viola Al-Amash and Alia (see above – Al-Amash family).

@hms____1 posted on Twitter/X a video of a woman with a head injury. Her name was not provided. @RTarabic and @skynewsarabia published a video of an elderly woman described as having “special needs” who was rescued from the rubble of the church – she was not identified by the source. @AlahdathArabian published two pictures of injured children being held by rescuers, without providing further details on the kids. One survivor quoted by Al-Jazeera, told the media ““One lady is waiting for her three kids to be pulled out of the rubble, It’s something you can’t really imagine, you can’t really explain.” Neither the names of the children nor their condition were indicated by the source.

Civilians under the rubble

Various local and international sources recorded a number of civilians trapped under the rubble, with The Guardian of the Greek Orthodox Church, quoted by @SupportProphetM estimating their number at “more than 200”. Local reporting also described ongoing rescue efforts following the attack. One member of the rescue team stated during a video released by @ajmubasher that there was no sufficient equipment that could support in pulling out the bodies.

HCC narrated the scene: “the search for bodies and survivors” was conducted “in the dark of the night due to the deliberate power outage by the Israeli occupation in all of the Gaza Strip. The residents, the clergy, the fathers, the priests, and the monastery and Church officials had no choice but to search the remains of the victims in the lights of mobile phones. Their voices rose, calling for those who thought they were still alive under the rubble. This person called out, “Oh Suleiman,” and a grandmother called out, “Tata, if you hear me, answer me.” And a grieving mother crying and screaming in the name of her daughter, who was not more than 4 months old. .” The Guardian further explained that “Dozens of men searched the collapsed building into the night, looking for survivors – and for bodies to retrieve the next day.”

Overall death toll estimates

Sources provided various estimates regarding the number of civilians who were taking shelter inside the Church complex at the moment of the attack. These estimates ranged between a 100 to 500, with The Supreme Presidential Committee for Follow-up of Church Affairs in Palestine providing the highest estimate. One survivor, Ibrahim Al-Souri, quoted by Al Jazeera, said that these were mostly “children, women, elderly and sick people”. As the Church is a complex of multiple buildings, most sources reporting on those sheltering did not specify how many of them were in the building that was hit by the bombing.

While early reports of exact casualty numbers were challenged by the scale and nature of the incident, there was consensus among sources that this was a mass casualty event, with reports by the following afternoon from Church officials putting the death toll at least at 18 civilians and “several” children, as reported on by Al Jazeera. After identifying additional names through social media, Airwars has however raised this minimum death toll to 23 civilians.

Pictures of injured civilians were released on social media by multiple sources, while @SARASMAYRA1 on Twitter/X published images of victims at the hospital. @mrowesna123 suggested that nuns could be among those wounded but no other sources provided further details to corroborate this.

Two other sources gave higher estimates of the death toll: the Holy Orthodox Foundation of Saint George, quoted by @ytirawi, affirmed that Israeli forces bombing led to 150 estimated “martyrs” while only one source, @ElmadhonHosam said that the number of victims exceeded 400 injured and killed.

On October 20th, The Guardian said that among the victims killed were “four tiny children”, while @Lolwah_Alkhater put the number of children killed at seven, and @zoo_bear at eight. Relying on local and social media sources, Airwars recorded the names of at least ten children killed from the three different family units outlined above. Palestinian resident, Ibrahim Jahsan, interviewed by Al-Jazeera, told the media that the kids who survived the attack were all “traumatised”, adding that “No words can describe what we are going through.”

According to several sources, including @AJArabic and @TRTArabiv, and the Guardian, mass funerals of victims were held the next day in the courtyard of St. Porphyrius Church. Many Muslims and Christians attended the ceremony,  @TRTArabic reported. A video recorded by the source showed heartbroken relatives of children killed holding phones to show pictures of them to the camera.  @AJA_Palestine also published a video covering the ceremony.

Airwars will update our casualty range should further information come to light.

Destruction of the Church complex

Multiple local and international sources reported that the strike led to the complete destruction of the headquarters of the council of the church. The building was also referred to as the “Church Stewards Council” by the Palestinian News and Press Agency, quoted by Anadolu Agency. The building was described as a two-storey building part of the church’s compound. HCC further explained that the Council was “one of the abandoned houses adjacent to the church”. A rescuer told Reuters that the civilians sheltering in the lower floor of the building were crushed to death, buried under the rubble, while two civilians sheltered on the upper floors survived.

Al Jazeera described scenes of shock and disbelief from the survivors following the attack: “a number of members of the Greek Orthodox [religion] who survived the bombing appeared sitting next to the church in a dazed state, waiting for the remaining bodies of the victims to be removed from under the rubble.”

Father Issa Musleh, interviewed by Al Jazeera, said “People there – Muslims and Christians – they thought they’d be safe inside the [church] building – Because it’s a church, they didn’t think it would be bombed by Israel.” The church had been previously used as a sanctuary, with both Muslims and Christians taking shelter in its buildings during former Israeli military campaigns, the same media noted.

HCC added that the blast also led to the complete destruction of the church “entrances”. A statement by the Order of St. George, quoted in The Washington Post, claimed that two halls, which were areas where refugees, including “children and babies” were sleeping, were destroyed by the blast. Justin Amash on Twitter/X, a relative of several victims of the attack, said that while the sanctuary had not been destroyed from the strike, “the church annex, which includes offices and meeting spaces for the Christian community” collapsed following the attack.

Additionally, according to HCC, the attack destroyed “all the warehouses in which the church stored water, food, grains and canned food”.

The New York Times explained that the church is composed of “a chapel, seven buildings and a courtyard”. Only two sources, a man interviewed by @ajmubasher and a resident, Maher Ayyad, interviewed by Washington Post, reported that around a hundred civilians were in the bombed building. Maher Ayyad further explained to the Washington Post that “around 400 displaced civilians, mainly Christians, were taking shelter in the entire complex.” Similar estimates were provided by HCC which stated that 382 Palestinian Christians were taking refuge, spread inside the various buildings constituting of the church: “Christian families were distributed among all the different church facilities, including facilities that included Sunday schools, halls adjacent to the church, or the headquarters of the Council of Deputies, which was a place that was destroyed along with those in it.”

@ShehabAgency reported that among the victims were displaced Palestinian Christian civilians who had taken refuge in the church. According to a man interviewed by @ajmubasher, the Palestinian Christians in Gaza who were displaced and took shelter in that church constituted half of the Christian population in Gaza. @AlarabyTV correspondent stated that  those forcibly displaced came from Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza, an area that that Israeli forces asked to be evacuated.

According to HCC, “the church was notified more than three times to evacuate the survivors towards the south” – though the source did not indicate when the warnings were sent to the church. However, @AJArabic recorded an eyewitness who claimed that no prior warning was given before the strike.

One survivor told Al Jazeera said that he had decided to stay in the church with his relatives, despite the risks: “We were baptised here, and we will die here.” The Washington Post interviewed a Palestinian American living in the US, with relatives and friends who were sheltering inside the church, who told the media: “They’re terrified. They’re shaken. They don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where else to go.”

The Patriachate reportedly condemned the attack but stated that the church was committed to continue offering “shelter to the displaced” in Gaza city, despite evacuation orders. The Washington Post alleged that  “Around 500 other Christians” relocated to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate School in Gaza City.

HCC recorded the attack at around 8:30pm.

Where possible, Airwars has matched names with the Palestinian Ministry of Health list of nearly 7000 victims’ names, ID numbers and ages released on October 26th.

Due to the scale and urgency of Airwars’ assessment process, all images have been automatically uploaded to each assessment with the graphic filter applied to protect users. We have also included all images identified from the sources, which may also include any imagery of combatants.

The incident occured at approximately 8:30 pm local time.

The victims were named as:

Family members (6)

Yara Grace Al-Amsh يارا العمش
23 years old female wife of Sobhi Al-Souri killed Matched to MoH ID 405957218
Juliet Sobhi Al-Souri جوليت صبحي الصوري
1 years old female Yara's daughter killed Matched to MoH ID 445846819
George Sobhi Al-Souri جورج صبحي الصزري
less than a year old years old male Yara's son killed Matched to MoH ID 445239171
Sobhi Al-Souri صبحي الصوري
Adult male injured
Samaa Al-Amash سما العمش
4 months years old female daughter of Miral and Atallah killed
Grace Issa Al-Amash جريس عيسى العمش
Adult female killed

Family members (10)

Tariq Sami Al-Souri طارق الصوري
37 years old male killed Matched to MoH ID 801483959
Lisa Walid Souri ليزا الصوري
32 years old female Tariq's wife killed Matched to MoH ID 803689009
Issa Tariq Al-Suri عيسى الصوري
12 years old male Tariq and Lisa's son killed Matched to MoH ID 432257384
Ghada Al-Souri غادة الصوري
Adult female wife of Ramez Al-Souri killed
Suhail Ramez Al-Souri سهيل رامز الصوري
14-15 years old male Ramez and Ghada's child killed Matched to MoH ID 427456660
Majd Ramez Al-Souri ماجد رامز الصوري
7-10 years old male Ramez and Ghada's child killed Matched to MoH ID 433213493
Julie Ramez Al-Suri جويل رامز الصوري
9-12 years old female Ramez and Ghada's child killed Matched to MoH ID 431576370
Abdel Nour Sami Al-Souri  عبدالنور الصوري
Adult male killed Matched to MoH ID 803471143
Viola Al-Amsh  فيولا العمش
26 years old female Abdel Nour's wife killed Matched to MoH ID 403253248
Alia Abdelnour Al-Souri علياء الصوري
less than a year old years old female Abdel Nour and Viola's child killed Matched to MoH ID 444170781

Family members (8)

Marwan Salim Tarazi مروان ترزي
64 years old male killed Matched to MoH ID 922295985
Nahid Rahuf Musa Tarazi ناهد ترزي
60 years old female Marwan's wife killed Matched to MoH ID 922296090
Joelle Attala Al-Amash جويل عطالله العمش
less than a year years old female Marwan and Nahid's granddaughter killed Matched to MoH ID 444370142
Dr Suleiman Jamil Tarazi سليمان ترزي
35 years old male killed
Lily Saba ليلي سابا
Adult female Suleiman's wife injured
Jad Tarazi جاد ترزي
Child male Suleiman and lily's son injured
Elaine Helmi Tarazi الينا ترزي
Adult female killed
Eva Salim Musa Tarazi ايفا سليم موسى ترزي
Adult female killed

The victims were named as:

Christine Al-Turk كريسين الترك
Child female killed
Nassem Saba نسيم سابا
Age unknown male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian infrastructure
    Religious Institution
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    23 – 27
  • (10 children8–10 women5–7 men1 healthcare_personnel)
  • Civilians reported injured
    18–24
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Impact
    Education,Healthcare
    Impact on services or infrastructure relating to education, health or food supply. See methodology note for details.
  • Known attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Known target
    Palestinian Forces

Sources (77) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (101) [ collapse]

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    Source: @ShehabAgency
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    Source: @ShehabAgency
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    Source: @ShehabAgency
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    Source: @ShehabAgency
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    Source: @mrowesna123
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    Source: @ElmadhonHosam
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    Source: @AlahdathArabian
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    Source: MOI palestine
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    Source: MOI palestine
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    Source: Arab Orthodox Scout of Gaza
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    Source: Arab Orthodox Scout of Gaza
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    Source: Nadine.shaheen
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    Source: Rana Abo Farha
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    Source: Wadie Abunassar
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    Source: Wadie Abunassar
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    Source: Wadie Abunassar
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    Source: Farida.tarazi
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    Source: Muntaser Tarzi
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    Source: Arab Orthodox Scout of Gaza
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    Source: Arab Orthodox Scout of Gaza
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    Source: Arab Orthodox Scout of Gaza
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    Source: The Guardian News
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    Source: October 20th, 2023@Dr_Atshan
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    Source: October 20th, 2023@Dr_Atshan
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Geolocation notes (2) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the vicinity of Saint Porphyrius Church (كنيسة القديس برفيريوس) in Gaza city (غَزَّة). Analysing audio-visual material from sources, we have narrowed the location down to the following exact coordinates: 31.503694, 34.462428.

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  • Imagery:
    @pmofa

  • Imagery:
    @WLbir

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

Israeli Military

Statement regarding the raid that targeted an area close to the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza:

Yesterday in the Zaytoun area, IDF warplanes targeted the command and control center of a Hamas terrorist involved in firing rockets and mortar shells towards Israel.

This command center was used to launch attacks on Israel and included infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization.

Any damage resulting from the Israeli raid is collateral damage and was not intended by the Israeli operation.

*The IDF can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of this raid*

Hamas intentionally places its operational facilities in areas populated by civilians, exploiting the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields.

In order to reduce the damage to civilians, the IDF sent a request to the residents of the northern area of the Gaza Strip to evacuate the northern area and head south beyond the Gaza Valley.

The IDF continues to call on residents of the northern Gaza area to evacuate the area in accordance with the army’s instructions.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian infrastructure
    Religious Institution
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    23 – 27
  • (10 children8–10 women5–7 men1 healthcare_personnel)
  • Civilians reported injured
    18–24
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Impact
    Education,Healthcare
    Impact on services or infrastructure relating to education, health or food supply. See methodology note for details.
  • Known attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Known target
    Palestinian Forces

Sources (77) [ collapse]