ROME – After a disputed incident in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed while attempting to access humanitarian aid in Gaza, Church leaders in Jerusalem have condemned what they described as a “wanton attack” and called for a ceasefire.

In a March 1 statement, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem pointed to the Feb. 29 incident, saying that “in the aftermath of yesterday’s horrifying events and their cruel context, we, the patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem, condemn the wanton attack against innocent civilians.”

They called for both parties involved in the conflict “to reach an immediate and lengthy ceasefire that allows for the speedy disbursement of relief supplies throughout the Gaza Strip, and for the enactment of a negotiated release of those held as captives and prisoners.”

Their statement comes after at least 112 people in Gaza were killed and 760 injured on Thursday while trying to get desperately needed humanitarian aid from trucks dispersing it.

Accounts of what happened differ, with Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claiming that Gaza residents surrounded the trucks and began looting the supplies, prompting soldiers to fire warning shots as the scene turned chaotic and people were trampled to death by the crowds.

The Palestinian Health Ministry, however, says Israeli forces opened fire onto the crowd, and that many of those who died and were injured suffered gunshot wounds.

In a Feb. 29 post on social media platform X, the IDF said that “This morning humanitarian aid trucks entered northern Gaza, residents surrounded the trucks and looted the supplies being delivered. As a result of the pushing, trampling, and being run over by the trucks, dozens of Gazans were killed and injured.”

Palestine’s ruling Hamas party rejected this account of the incident, saying there was “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens.”

Thursday’s carnage prompted the United Nations Security Council to hold a closed-door emergency meeting to discuss the incident. During the proceedings, Algeria, the body’s Arab representative, proposed a draft statement blaming Israeli forces for “opening fire” on civilians.

Though 14 of the council’s 15 members supported the motion, the Associated Press reports that it was blocked by the United States, which cited Palestine’s UN ambassador Riyad Mansour.

In their statement, the Church leaders in Jerusalem faulted Israel. Citing eyewitness accounts, they said “Israeli forces in southwest Gaza City opened fire on crowds of civilians seeking to receive sacks of flour to feed their starving families.”

“The ensuing carnage resulted in the death of more than a hundred Gazans, with hundreds more seriously injured,” they said, saying doctors at the scene and at hospitals treating the wounded “reported that most were killed or injured by gunfire.”

Some of the dead, they said, were “victimized after being either trampled by panicked crowds or hit by aid trucks fleeing the horrific scene.”

They condemned remarks made by Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a controversial rightwing politician accused of ethnic and religious discrimination, who called IDF soldiers “heroic” after Thursday’s incident and said they “acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them.”

Ben-Gvir demanded that humanitarian aid into Gaza be halted on grounds that it poses a risk to soldiers, saying Thursday’s incident was proof “that the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza is not only madness while our hostages are held in the Strip … but also endangers IDF (Israeli army) soldiers.”

In their statement, Jerusalem’s Church leaders condemned Ben-Gvir’s defense of the IDF, saying he chose “to blame the victims for their own demise,” and his calls for an end to deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“That stated desire has already become a harsh reality for the half-million remaining in Gaza City, where aid deliveries have nearly halted because of heavy entry restrictions and lack of security escort for the delivery convoys,” the Church leaders said.

Humanitarian officials have repeatedly warned against “siege-induced famine” in northern Gaza, they said, and noted that foreign governments have even considered humanitarian airdrops as a “last resort.”

“Yet these offer only a tiny fraction of the relief that is needed for a remnant civilian population greater than that of Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city,” they said.

Earlier this week Palestinian Ambassador to the Holy See Issa Kassissieh met with the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, to address the ongoing war in Gaza and other regional issues.

He called specifically for a ceasefire ahead of the Muslim and Christian holy periods of Ramadan and Easter, and urged that immediate access to humanitarian aid be ensured for Gaza’s beleaguered population.

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The UN has warned of a looming famine in the north Gaza, where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water. There are also shortages of medicine and fuel.

Last week, the World Food Program announced that it was forced to suspend aid deliveries to norther Gaza after its first convoy in three weeks was swarmed by swaths of hungry people near an Israeli checkpoint and had faced gunfire in Gaza City.

On Tuesday, a senior UN aid official warned that roughly 576,000 people throughout the Gaza Strip, about one quarter of the population, faced catastrophic levels of food insecurity and that an estimated one in six children under the age of two in the north were suffering from acute malnutrition.

In their statement, the Church leaders in Jerusalem also voiced solidarity and prayer for the Christian communities throughout Gaza, specifically the more than 800 people who have been sheltering at St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church and Holy Name Catholic Church in Gaza City for five months.

They also voiced support for “the intrepid staff and volunteers” at the Anglican-run Ahli Hospital in Gaza, and for the patients they serve.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen