Gaza convent, school looted and burned

A school and convent in a Gaza Catholic compound were ransacked before being torched as fears rise among Christians over their future in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The school and convent were ransacked, burned and looted during clashes around a major security headquarters, the head of the community said yesterday, according to a report in the UK Guardian.

Crosses were broken, a statue of Jesus was damaged, and prayer books were burnt at the Rosary Sisters School and nearby convent, said Fr Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza's Latin church.

The damage took place on Thursday, but wasn't reported until days later because of the chaos that has prevailed since Islamic Hamas militants wrested power in Gaza, Fr Musallem said. The religious compound is located near a key security headquarters Hamas captured on Thursday on the final day of its Gaza takeover.

Gunmen used the roof of the school during the fighting, and the convent was "desecrated", Mussalem said.

"Nothing happens by mistake these days," he said.

Seven computers were removed, but three were brought back after the vandalism was reported to the deposed prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh condemned the attack on the religious compound and President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah movement said in statement late on Sunday that the "barbaric" attack was the act of Hamas' militia.

"There may be some in Hamas who wanted to cause strife between Muslims and Christians," Musallem said.

Hamas lawmaker Salah Bardawil denied that Hamas had a hand in the vandalism.

"The Christians are our brothers in Gaza and everywhere, and we will protect their holy places and school, as we do our Islamic schools," he said. "But there are some dirty elements who work to harm Hamas' image ... and relations, but this will not happen."

Meanwhile, Catholic News Service reports that some Christians in the Gaza Strip have expressed concern about their future after Hamas took control of the Palestinian territory.

Omar Shaban, US Catholic Relief Services project manager for Gaza, said he did not know how Hamas, an Islamic extremist political and military movement, would view the US bishops' international relief and development agency.

"With Fatah as a secular organisation we had no problems, but with Hamas I am not sure how they will perceive us," Shaban said.

He also noted that CRS no longer has a governmental body to work with in the Gaza Strip, since, as a US nongovernmental organisation, CRS is forbidden to have contact with Hamas. The US government considers Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Israel has closed its borders with the Gaza enclave, which is dependent on imports and foreign aid, and fuel was beginning to run short, Shaban said in mid-June.

He said Gaza's 1.5 million residents, 80 per cent of whom live under the poverty line, only had about two weeks of basic supplies left.

Christians in Gaza Strip express concern about their future (Catholic News, 18/6/07)
Catholic Compound Ransacked in Gaza (The Guardian, 18/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Jerusalem

Caritas hospital in Gaza forced to close (CathNews, 13/6/07)
Gaza sick dying for lack of urgent medical access (CathNews, 20/3/07)
Gaza strip a "large prison": Irish bishops (CathNews, 28/2/07)
Gaza getting worse, say residents (CathNews, 7/12/06)
New Gaza settlement tenders concern Caritas Jerusalem (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Biblical lamentations as Gaza descends into disaster (CathNews, 12/7/06)

19 Jun 2007