Gaza: missile hits church and hospital

 St Philip's church and the Ahli Arab hospital were hit by a guided missile on Saturday. A statement from the Anglican church said: "There is broken glass everywhere - on the floors, covering the tables, covering papers, on beds. The Christian leaders of Gaza have gathered to offer their support and condemn the bombing of St Philip's Episcopal church, located within the Ahli Arab Hospital compound. The Church is in the centre of the hospital complex, and surrounded by buildings flying Red Cross and Anglican flags. All day a steady flow of friends and visitors came to say 'Illhamdillah Salameh', 'thank God you are safe." At about 2:15am on Saturday morning, Dr Salah, who was on call at the hospital awoke to the sound of an explosion in the distance. The next explosion was nearer and louder, and the electricity failed. Within the next few minutes he saw the distinctive light of a missile approaching. As he lay in his third floor bed, he watched as the missile passed within ten metres of his head and hit St Philip's Church. It came slowly, and he describes 'the storm of wind and glass passing like a train through his bedroom'. There was glass everywhere; in his bed, in his hair, covering the floor. An elderly woman had arrived at the emergency room, just prior to the attack. She came because she was terrified, and was suffering from high blood pressure. The doctor began to examine her and just then the missile hit next door, and throwing him to the ground. It took a few minutes for the electrical generator to come on, and by the time he was able to get to her, she had died. He said: "She died of fear." Built at the turn of the last century, St Philip's Episcopal Church was reconsecrated in 1996, by Bishops Samir Kafity and Riah Abu El-Assal, in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, the Presiding Bishop of the US, Edmund Browning, and thirty-four other Primates of the Anglican Communion, along with President Arafat. Its century-old stained class windows were shattered, and crystal from the chandeliers were scattered over l the floor. The missile smashed through the roof, and left a metre wide hole in the floor. The altar was covered with plaster and a hymnal pierced with shrapnel. Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli director, said: "we collected money from so many individuals who supported the renovation of the Church, and in a minute it was gone." At the hospital the Paediatric Clinics are damaged, ceilings and the ventilation system have collapsed. Elsewhere the physical therapy building, staff accommodation, laboratory, medical records, morgue and library have all been badly damaged. Staff at the hospital said they were convinced the attack was not accidental. They said the hospital is nowhere near other apartment buildings, government or military facilities. Dr Salah said: "Apache helicopters not only fired the missile, they returned to film the results of their attack. These were shown on early morning Israeli television." He continued: "Ahli Arab hospital is like a small family. I have been through so many attacks, but never imagined our hospital would be hit, or the church. It is a holy place. We are strong, we will survive. The hospital is running and it is going to continue to run for a long time.' Dr Nabila is Ahli's only female physician. Last night tanks surrounded her family's four story apartment building. They were given five minutes to evacuate, leaving with only the nightclothes they wore. Those who specialize in destruction then entered to plant vacuum bombs, which destroyed the building with such force that cement blocks are scattered over a kilometre. Today the streets are filled with neighbours and friends who are staring at the destruction. Suhaila Tarazi said: "God forgive them they do not know what they are doing. I will repeat the words of Jesus on the day he was crucified. Despite this we will continue our mission of love and peace to all people. I call upon our friends, all over the world, to keep us in your prayers and help us to overcome this tragedy. To work hard with us, because I am sure that one day peace will prevail." Source: Anglican Communion press office

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