In Gaza, Palestinians hold Ramadan prayers by ruins of mosque

By Thomson Reuters Mar 15, 2024 | 11:24 AM

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Palestinians in Gaza held the first Friday prayers of Ramadan outside the ruins of a mosque levelled in Israel’s offensive, one of hundreds the Hamas-run authorities say have been damaged or destroyed in Israeli attacks since October.

Scores of worshippers knelt in rows in the street by the wreckage of the al-Farouk mosque in Rafah, laying out their prayer mats in the shadow of a white minaret marking all that remains of the otherwise flattened building.

The words “Al-Farouk mosque” were painted on the side of a marquee in the street serving as a temporary place of worship, amid surrounding urban desolation.

Well over 1 million Palestinians are crammed into Rafah, seeking sanctuary from the Israeli military campaign that has laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip since it began in October in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Abu Jehad, a lawyer who fled to Rafah at the southern end of the narrow, densely populated enclave from his home in Gaza City in the north, said he had attended Friday prayers in a field.

“The whole land is the land of God, so we can pray anywhere. The occupation can’t deprive us of that,” said the father of six, referring to Israel.

People were praying in tents, damaged mosques and the streets, said Abu Jehad, who was reached by phone.

Friday prayers are particularly well attended during Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, eating, praying and spending time with family and friends.

U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators tried but failed to secure a ceasefire in time for the start of Ramadan which began at the outset of this week.

The Hamas-run Gaza government media office says Israeli attacks have completely destroyed 223 mosques and partially destroyed another 289, while Israeli attacks had also demolished three churches.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ramadan’s first Friday prayers in Gaza.

The war in Gaza was triggered when Hamas fighters stormed into Israel in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s ground and air offensive since then has killed more than 30,000 people, according to health authorities in Gaza.

(Reporting by Bassam Massoud in Rafah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo and James Mackenzie in Jerusalem; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Mark Heinrich)