The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is pushing back against reports concerning two Christian women who were killed during fighting within the area of Gaza’s only Catholic Church over the weekend.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem claimed in a Saturday press release that an IDF sniper had murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families have taken refuge since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas. 

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa wrote in a report, later republished by the Holy See, that a woman named Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter, Samar Kamal Anton, were “shot and killed as they walked to the Sisters’ Convent.” 

“One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” said Pizzaballa, who is also a Catholic cardinal. Seven more people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others inside the church compound.

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Pizzaballa wrote that a rocket fired from an IDF tank targeted the convent and destroyed the building’s generator. Two more rockets, fired by an IDF tank, he said, targeted the same Convent, rendering the home uninhabitable, and displacing the 54 disabled persons. 

The IDF says reports on these incidents do match the conclusion of an initial review which found that the IDF troopers were targeting Hamas spotters in enemy lookouts. It said this incident occurred “in the area where the two women were reportedly killed.” 

Following the reports of two women that were shot in the area of the Latin Church in Shejaya, the IDF has finished conducting an initial review of the incident. The review found that on December 17th, in the early afternoon, Hamas terrorists launched a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church,” the IDF said. “The troops then identified three people in the vicinity, operating as spotters for Hamas by guiding their attacks in the direction of the IDF troopers. In response, our troops fired towards the spotters and hits were identified.” 

The IDF said it “takes claims of strikes on sensitive sites very seriously, especially churches that are holy sites for the Christian faith.” 

The statement concluded, “The IDF directs its operations against the Hamas terrorist organization and not against civilians, regardless of their religious affiliation. The IDF takes many measures to mitigate harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip. These efforts stand in contrast to Hamas that does everything in its power to endanger civilians and exploits them, as well as religious sites, as human shields for their terrorist activities.”

The parish compound is home to the Missionaries of Charity, an order of female religious members founded by Mother Theresa that is dedicated to serving the sick and disabled.