An Israeli airstrike hit the grounds of the historic Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City, which was sheltering displaced people, on Thursday night, according to church officials and witnesses.
The church compound, comprising a chapel, seven buildings and a courtyard, was full of Christian families from the Gaza Strip, witnesses said. They said the airstrike happened around 7:30 p.m., when dinner was being distributed.
Videos and images from the scene showed rescuers digging through rubble, working with flashlights late Thursday and into Friday. The chapel was not struck.
The Gazan health ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said at least 16 people were killed and many others were still buried under rubble. The death toll could not be independently confirmed.
A statement from the Israeli military on Friday said that the church was not the intended target of the airstrike. The fighter jets that carried out the attack were trying to destroy a Hamas command center near the church that the military believes has been involved in launching rockets and mortars toward Israel, the statement said.
“We are aware of reports on casualties,” the statement said, using the initials of the Israel Defense Forces. “The incident is under review. The I.D.F. can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of the strike.”
The Israeli military later released a video of the strike, indicating that it was targeting the building next to the church.
Ibrahim Jahshan, 43, who volunteers at the church, was in the complex when he and others heard the blast. They rushed out to find a building had been demolished, and spent the next hours trying to save the wounded. He said that many of those who died were Christians and members of the enclave’s minority religious community.
“We’ll rebuild what’s been damaged,” Mr. Jahshan said by phone. “But those who were killed — we can’t bring them back.”
On Friday, former Representative Justin Amash wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that several of his relatives were among those killed. He shared a photo of two of them, Viola and Yara, in front of a Christmas display.
“The Palestinian Christian community has endured so much,” he said in the post. “Our family is hurting badly.”