The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has again denied claims that an IDF sniper “murdered” two women at the Catholic Holy Family Parish in Gaza last week, with military officials indicating that a review of the incident does not line up with widely distributed reports of the women’s deaths. 

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said last week that “around noon” on Dec. 16, a sniper of the IDF “murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza,” with the patriarchate claiming the women “were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”

The IDF initially disputed those claims, telling CNA that in discussions with church officials “no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised.”

In a statement to CNA on Thursday, an IDF spokesman further disputed that characterization based on a military review of the incident. 

“Following the reports of two women that were shot in the area of the Latin church in Shuja’iyya, the IDF has finished conducting an initial review of the incident,” the statement said. 

The review found that “Hamas terrorists launched a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church,” the statement 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 troops.” 

“In response, our troops fired towards the spotters, and hits were identified,” the IDF continued. “While this incident occurred in the area where the two women were reportedly killed, the reports received do not match the conclusion of our initial review, which found that the IDF troops were targeting spotters in enemy lookouts.” 

“The IDF continues to investigate the incident,” the statement said. 

Asked to specify which “reports” it was referring to, and if its review determined whether or not an IDF soldier did kill the women in question, the IDF responded: “That is all the info we can share on this subject at this point.”

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On the same Saturday as the reported killing of the women, rockets were reportedly fired from an IDF tank and hit the convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity, on the parish compound, rendering the home uninhabitable, according to the Latin Patriarchate.

Father Gabriel Romanelli of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, pastor of Holy Family Parish, told CNA this week that “the building’s generator and the fuel resources were destroyed,” while residents of the compound — several dozen disabled individuals — had been relocated. 

“[T]heir conditions are very precarious,” the priest told CNA. “Some of them, requiring respirators, are at risk of not surviving for long.”

On Sunday, meanwhile, Pope Francis issued a sharp condemnation of the reported attack following his recitation of the Angelus.

“I continue to receive very serious and painful news from Gaza. Unarmed civilians are subjected to bombings and shootings,” the Holy Father said. 

“And this even happened inside the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns,” he said.

“Yes, it’s war, it’s terrorism,” the pope said. 

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