After undergoing restoration for almost three years, remains of a fifth-century church from the Byzantine era in Gaza were reopened on Monday with the strip’s Hamas group leaders embracing their “Christian brothers.”
The remains of a church and monastery were first discovered in Jabalia, a city in northern Gaza, in 1997 over an area spanning roughly 800 square meters (957 square yards).
The church floor is adorned with what Hamas officials described as “rare” mosaics, including depictions of animals, hunting scenes and palm trees.
Visitors can now gaze at the mosaics from newly-built elevated wooden walkways.
Gaza’s tourism ministry said the church’s original walls were adorned with religious texts written in ancient Greek dating from the era of Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled Byzantium from the year 408 to 450.
At a ceremony marking the site’s reopening, the most senior Christian cleric in Gaza, Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, recalled Christianity’s long history in the coastal territory, noting that “monasticism began in the Gaza strip in the year 280.”
But the number of Christians in Gaza has declined over the years, many of them migrating, particularly after Hamas seized power in 2007. According to local church officials, only about 1,000 Christians remain in the enclave, compared to 7,000 before 2007.
Issam al-Daalis, who heads the government works department in Gaza, said the site’s restoration was an example of Hamas’s “embracing” of its “Christian brothers in Gaza.”
French organization Premiere Urgence Internationale restored the church at almost $250,000. The British Council also supported the work. About 2.3 million people live in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded since 2007.