c. 2003 Religion News Service
JERUSALEM _ The Anglican Church is demanding compensation from the Israeli government for the Jan. 24 bombing of a Gaza church and hospital complex which it said resulted in more than $250,000 in damages.
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, the ranking Anglican leader in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said the church would take the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to court if it did not receive appropriate compensation for the bombing _ and an apology.
“The damage done to the church and to the hospital is in excess of $250,000,” said El-Assal. “Our lawyer is now writing to the different ministries, and he hopes that they will come to terms with us, rather than obliging us to take the issue to court.”
The missile attack occurred at 2:15 a.m. on Jan. 24 when, according to El-Assal, an Israeli helicopter fired a missile into St. Phillip’s Church, which lies at the heart of the walled, three-acre Al Ahli Hospital compound in a Palestinian-controlled portion of the Gaza Strip.
The bishop said the 24 kilogram missile carrying 2.8 kilograms of explosives slammed directly into the church, destroying the roof and damaging its walls. Another projectile landed in the hospital, killing a woman in the emergency room, destroying an X-ray machine, and an air conditioning system, and blowing out most hospital windows.
Military officials so far have not commented on the Palestinian claim for damage compensation. But they have confirmed its forces fired missiles at a suspected Palestinian weapons factory located nearby and conceded an unexploded missile may have landed on an “adjacent structure.”
“Between the night of Jan. 23 and 24, as part of the Army’s response to terror and the mortar shelling of Jewish communities in and around Gaza, the army attacked a number of targets where Palestinians were manufacturing mortar shells and missiles,” an Army spokesman told RNS. “After a successful hit on the targets, we also received several reports on the damage of an adjacent church.
“Later on in the morning, we received an additional report about an unexploded missile in the area of the attack. The subject was checked several times and the bottom line is that indeed there is the possibility that another structure besides the munitions factory was damaged. That’s all. We can’t say for sure.”
El-Assal said the damage incurred was far greater than reflected in the army report. And he found it hard to believe a single missile had simply misfired because the helicopters shoot at relatively close range and the church/hospital complex is nearly a kilometer from the suspected weapons factory.
“The complex is like an old missionary compound, which is walled and no one can mistake it for something else. There are Red Cross flags flying from the top of the hospital, and the Episcopal flag from the top of the church,” said El-Assal. “The church was targeted, I’m afraid, and that is why I hold the Ministry of Defense responsible.”
El-Assal said that church and hospital personnel had made a video-tape of the damage in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
“I’m no expert on missiles but those who came to survey the church, found all of the wiring on the missile as well as the remote control, still hanging from the roof,” he said.
“If it had been purely an accident, the Israelis would have rushed to say that they were sorry, that this was done by mistake. Instead, we feel that this attack was aimed at the church leadership, telling them to hush up, and stop advocating peace with justice for Palestinians.”
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