Archbishop Alexios of Gaza mopped his brow wearily in the upstairs office of his church, transformed in recent days into a shelter for hundreds of families displaced by the Gaza conflict.
His grey clerical robe undone at the neck and damp with perspiration, the archbishop was exhausted. Last night, the area around the St Porferios Greek Orthodox church – including its little cemetery – was shelled by Israeli forces.
“I only got to sleep at 6am,” he said. “We’re co-operating with the mosque next door. We’re looking after around 1000 people between us.” All of the people sleeping in his church are Muslims.
“People started coming in on Sunday, more and more people, so we couldn’t even think about holding our Sunday service. Now it’s crazy,” he added.
The vast majority of those in his church fled the heavy fighting in neighbouring Shujai’iya, which saw scores killed on Saturday and Sunday in the most intense Israeli assault of the conflict so far.
“We gave them blankets and water and money for food,” he said. Then on Monday evening, the area around the church itself came under fire.
From the roof terrace outside his office, where two women were sweeping up debris, the damage was clearly visible – the walls of the Protestant school next door are peppered with shrapnel, tombs are broken open or utterly destroyed. A church-owned house next door, where a family who had fled from Beit Lahia in the north had sheltered for a while, is damaged and empty.