JERUSALEM — Until Israel launched an attack on a top military commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, there had been relative calm in the Gaza Strip for over a year, said Father Gabriel Romanelli, parish priest of Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza.
“This past year people were feeling a bit more relaxed; after the May 2021 war, thank God there have been almost no bombings or rockets,” said Romanelli, who had needed to go to Israel a few days and was caught by surprise outside Gaza Aug. 5. “In general there was an atmosphere of tranquility. When they closed the border and started the bombing, it was a very big contrast. It was very sad.”
After three days, an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire went into effect late Aug. 7 and, the following day, Father Romanelli said he had convinced authorities to let him return to his parish Aug. 9.
“I have to return to the parish, to help the parish families and other people in need,” he told CNS earlier. “Not being able to get back in is very difficult. I am in communication with the sisters and priests and families in the parish, but it is not easy. We wish for everyone to pray and work toward reconciliation, justice and peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Israel launched airstrikes into the Gaza Strip Aug. 5 to target leaders of the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad; Israel said it had information about an imminent attack on Israel.
The Associated Press reported the Palestinian Health Ministry said 43 Palestinians were killed over three days, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were injured. Israel said some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets; Palestinian Jihad fired about 600 rockets into Israel during the confrontation.
No Israeli injuries were reported, although some people who live along the Gaza border — and who spent most of the time holed up in bomb shelters — were treated for shock at local hospitals. Warning sirens for missiles were heard along the Israeli southern coast throughout the weekend, including up to the outskirts of Jerusalem Aug. 6.
At Holy Family Parish, the summer camp for the Scouts had been in full swing when the bombing started, and the nuns took the children home, Romanelli told Catholic News Service. All other activities were suspended except for the daily Mass and eucharistic adoration, the priest said, noting that parish leaders remained in contact with the many families to see what assistance they needed.
He said parish activities were set to resume Aug. 9, and the Scout camp would resume Aug. 12.
Ramy Tarazi, 29, general director of the Arab Orthodox Cultural and Educational Center in Gaza, said the noise of war from the bombings and rockets from both sides was very frightening.
“Every moment you live in Gaza you need to know that you can have bombing and rockets. There is no schedule for bombings. We went out to the sea (on Friday), and then came home and went to sleep. When we woke up, there was war,” he said.
One bomb landed very close to his house, he said.
“Really it is difficult,” he said.
With the border to Israel closed, he said, there had been no fuel for the only Palestinian power plant, and families only had four hours of electricity. Everyone in Gaza has an alternative power source, such as a generator, he added.
The cease-fire allows for fuel to be brought in, as well as Palestinian laborers from Gaza to cross over into Israel to work.
Tarazi said everyone in Gaza suffers from some sort of PTSD, and there is a great need for psychosocial counseling for stress.
“We hope really to have peace here in Gaza because all civilians here need to live in peace. We just want to live in a good situation. We need electricity, water, medical care, hospitals, the crossing (with Israel) to be open. We just need to live a good life,” he said. “We need support from others to pray for us to protect all the people of Gaza.”