Jerusalem's Anglican Bishop Threatens to sue Israelis over Church Bombing

Feb 07, 2003 06:09 PM EST

Jerusalem -- The top ranking Anglican cleric in Jerusalem is threatening to sue the Israeli government if it refuses to pay compensation for the bombing of a church in Gaza City last month.

Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal said he would have no choice but to take legal action if Israel did not fund the costs of repairing St Philip's Episcopal Church, located within the Ahli Arab Hospital complex.

"I am going to put a claim into the Israeli government and I hope that they will come to terms with compensating the church so that we will rebuild, renovate, repair the damage that was done," he told ENI. "But if they don't apologise and pay for the damage they have done, I will have to take them to court."

Bishop Abu El-Assal was reacting to the strike against the church and the hospital on 24 January.

Israeli Brigadier-General Tzvika Fogel claimed that Israeli helicopters had fired five missiles at a suspected Palestinian weapons factory but that two of the projectiles had malfunctioned, one of them landing in the "vicinity" of St Philip's.

Bishop Abu El-Assal, however, took a different view of the events.

"Well, certainly I was shocked, not because the missile missed its target and hit our church, but because we were targeted as a church," he said. He estimated the damages to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, including damages to the hospital.

"The roof will have to be changed, the walls will have to be rebuilt," he said. "And with the [recent winter] rains and no roof, the damage will be far greater than when it was hit on January 24."

The bishop said the military strike had demonstrated once again how deeply the Arab Christian community was caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither the church nor its followers were immune from the fighting, he said.

Anglicans number only about 10 among the estimated 3500 Arab Christians living in Gaza, the bishop said, and it was a community worth fighting for.

"Certainly they [Christians as a whole in Gaza] are a small minority. But the ministry in Gaza goes beyond its smallness, and the services are greatly appreciated, not the least of which is the hospital, which has been operating for more than 100 years," he said.

The Anglican church is also active in other parts of the area, including Ramallah, where it runs a school, and it has a medical facility at Nablus, also more than 100 years old. There is also an Anglican school and cathedral in Jerusalem.

Across the Holy Land, there are 34 Anglican institutions, employing about 1500 people. The Diocese of Jerusalem, which includes Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, embraces about 7500 members.

Bishop Abu El-Assal said the importance of the Anglican church operating in the troubled Middle East should not be underestimated.

"We provide hope in a hopeless situation," he said.

By Albert H. Lee
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