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attack on St. Philip's Episcopal Church and the adjacent Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, its bishop said Monday January 27.

"We insist on a claim of responsibility and full restitution for damages to both St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and Ahli Arab Hospital," said Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.

The bishop stressed he was "in the process of filing a court case" over the Israeli missile attack on Friday, January 24, in which one patient is believed to have died of shock.

Soon after a hospital gateman, identified as Mounir, "sustained a bullet wound to his head during the night and remains hospitalized in a coma," El-Assal added. "Please keep him, and his family in your prayers," he asked Christians around the world.

PRAYER APPEALS

The Bishop said that earlier appeals for prayers, released by BosNewsLife and other media, "are very much appreciated and truly make a difference in these difficult times." He urged Christians to also "write letters to elected officials and Israeli ambassadors denouncing "this barbaric attack on our Church and Hospital."

El-Assal said he holds "the government of Israel responsible for all damages. This is not only a violation of the IV Geneva Convention, but a Grave Breach as stipulated in Article 147, and therefore a war crime."

It was not immediately clear what the financial damages were, but witnesses told earlier that windows of the 19th century church in the hospital complex were shattered and that crystal from it’s chandeliers littered the floor because of the missile.

Bishop El-Assal said his hospital staff "remains in shock" after also discovering "that many of their major pieces of equipment have been harmed in the attack, especially the x-ray equipment."

DIFFICULT NIGHT

Over the weekend patients and staff members experienced a difficult night "as large number of Israeli tanks came within thirty metres (apr. 90 feet) of the entrance to the hospital (complex), "El-Assal explained.

He stressed the situation made it "impossible for either staff or those seeking health care to enter or leave the hospital, for over four hours."

In addition, "movement within the hospital compound was impossible due to the presence of Apache helicopters directly overhead, and fears that movement would be traced and answered with shooting."

Since Saturday, January 25, at least 12 Palestinians reportedly died wen dozens of Israeli tanks pounded their way deep into Gaza City with helicopters flying overhead, as part of one of Israel's largest operations since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

PALESTINIAN MILITANTS

The Israeli military made clear the operation was needed to crack down against potential suicide bombers and Palestinian militants who "launch Qassam rockets on Israel."

Although troops later withdrew from Gaza City area's, Israeli forces stepped up already tight travel restrictions ahead of the upcoming elections Tuesday January 28, amid security concerns.

Israeli officials said Palestinians, would not be allowed to cross from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel proper. Bishop El-Assal suggested this would make it even more difficult to hold prayer services in the St. Philip's Episcopal Church.

"The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has not succeeded in obtaining the necessary permit from the Israeli authorities that would allow a Palestinian priest to travel to Gaza from either Israel or the West Bank. Consequently worship services are sporadic and occur only when a foreign priest is visiting Gaza."

HAMAS THREATENS

However Israel's Government defended its policies saying that it fears possible suicide bombings and acts of terrorism during the election period from.

One of the leaders of the militant Palestinian Hamas movement, Mahmoud al-Zahhar has already warned that "the answer to the enemy crime in Gaza will be different, and Sharon will know that the blood of the Palestinians is not cheap," Arabic News.com reported.

Earlier Palestinians reportedly dropped mortars at Israeli patrols in Jenin, Toulkarem and opened fire at military positions and a booby trapped explosive was blown near an Israeli armored vehicle at the crossroad of al-Khuder town.

Several vehicles were apparently damaged, including a bus for transporting the Israeli soldiers between Jerusalem and Ghoush Axion settlements, Arabic News.com said.

SHARON POPULAR

Despite growing tensions, opinion polls suggested growing public support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's perceived hard-line policies towards Palestinians.

Likud was projected to win at least 32 seats in the 120-member parliament, compared to about 18 for the opposition Labor Party and 15 for the centrist Shinui, according to Maariv newspaper.

Analysts have warned that while the election itself is not expected to produce surprises, Sharon could face difficulties in forming the kind of broad-based, national unity government he wants.

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