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Palestinian Authority, Hamas Under Fire for Destruction of Ancient Gaza Church

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have come under heavy criticism over the destruction of ancient church ruins that were discovered in the Gaza Strip last week.

The 1,500-year-old ruins were unearthed as workers broke ground for a new shopping mall at Palestine Square in Gaza City, Khaled Abu Toameh reported in The Jerusalem Post. Christians complained that antiquities were bulldozed and removed from the site with no supervision in what they described as an effort to destroy their history.

Jamal Abu Rida, head of the Palestinian Authority Antiquities Ministry, indicated that the ruins were of a church or cathedral from the Byzantine period. “The site we are talking about is 2,000 square meters and 10-meters deep and requires hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation to extract pieces and read the texts,” he said, adding that his ministry only has 40 workers and lacks the means to properly excavate the site.

“They used bulldozers to remove the antiquities and no one ordered a freeze of the construction work at this important archeological site,” Father Ibrahim Nairouz, a priest from Nablus, wrote in a letter to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Rula Maa’yaa. Nairouz asked whether the authorities would have allowed the excavations to continue if the structure had been a mosque or a synagogue, “Or are they doing this because it’s an ancient church?”

“It’s obvious that Christian legacy and human beings are being targeted in our region,” he charged.

Nairouz and other Christian leaders also faulted the PA for arresting Swerios Malki Murad, the archbishop of the Syriac community in the Holy Land, and holding him for 24 hours. The PA claimed that Murad was arrested due to an unspecified charge made against him by a woman in his community.

Nairouz is boycotting a visit to Bethlehem by Hamdallah in protest of the destruction of the ruins.

Sources in Gaza say that the construction is being carried out under the authority of the Islamic Waqf or religious ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, so much of the anger is being directed towards the terrorist group.

Suleiman Fayoumi, a Christian from Nablus, wrote on social media, “How are the Wakf officials in Gaza different from ISIS when they bulldoze antiquities and a religious and cultural treasure?” Nick Bandak, a Christian from Bethlehem, asked, “Are they trying to change history that has proven that Gaza was one of the ancient cities for Christians?”

“This incident should be publicized so that the world would know the truth about Hamas,” wrote Samir Qumsieh, chairman of the United Christian Society in Bethlehem, on Facebook.

Mohamed al-Zared, a researcher in archaeology at Gaza’s Islamic University, called on “UNESCO and any organizations concerned with archaeology and heritage in the world to save Gaza from losing this ancient church.” A video of his remarks is embedded.

[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube ]