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Former US Representative Justin Amash, the first Palestinian-American member of Congress, said several of his family members were killed in Gaza following an Israeli airstrike at a Greek Orthodox church that was housing displaced Palestinians during the ongoing crisis.
Mr Amash, who represented parts of west Michigan in the House from 2011 to 2021, said his relatives were among hundreds of people seeking shelter in St Porphyrios Orthodox Church in Gaza City.
Bombs struck two halls where people were sleeping and killed at least 18 people overnight, according to the Order of St George, an associated order of the church.
Among the dead were Viola Al-Amash and Yara Al-Amash. The former congressman shared their photographs in a post on social media on Friday.
“The Palestinian Christian community has endured so much,” he wrote. “Our family is hurting badly. May God watch over all Christians in Gaza – and all Israelis and Palestinians who are suffering, whatever their religion or creed.”
Several members of Congress shared their condolences.
“Justin, I am so incredibly sorry. This is devastating,” replied US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“May God ease the pain you and your relatives are experiencing. Sending my condolences and love to you all,” wrote US Rep Ilhan Omar.
Hundreds of Muslims and Christians have been sheltering at the church, among the oldest in Gaza, during Israel’s ongoing bombardments in the wake of Hamas attacks on 7 October that killed approximately 1,400 Israelis.
More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced following Israel’s siege, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Gaza’s 2.3 million population includes roughly 1,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, among the oldest jurisdictions in Christendom, has condemned the church bombing.
“The Patriarchate emphasizes that targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past thirteen days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” the organisation shared in a statement.
“The Patriarchate stresses that it will not abandon its religious and humanitarian duty, rooted in its Christian values, to provide all that is necessary in times of war and peace alike,” the organisation added.
A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said the strike targeted a nearby Hamas control centre and “damaged the wall of a church in the area”.
“We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review,” the statement added.
The original structure of the Church of St Porphyrius dates to the 5th century. Its current structure was built in the 12th century.