Chaos of Gaza war forces Palestinian Christians to bury dead in Muslim cemeteries

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Too frightened to travel on dangerous roads that lead to their graveyards in Gaza, Palestinian Christians are lowering their loved ones into the ground in Muslim cemeteries amid the chaos of war between Israel and Hamas.

“I’ve been working at this cemetery for almost 10 years and this is the first time in my life,” said Ihsan al-Natour, a worker at the Tal al-Sultan cemetery, where a man picked up a shrouded body and placed it inside a grave as a small child watched.

“Never have I seen a Christian being buried in a Muslim grave, but because of this war, we had no choice but to bury him here.”

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Since the war broke out six months ago, Israel bombardments have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to figures from the Gaza health ministry. Some people have lost entire families.

Much of the coastal enclave has been turned into a wasteland, with buildings reduced to rubble and dust. Badly damaged hospitals cannot cope with the casualties, while hunger and possible famine add to the misery.

Travel along roads that could get bombed or shelled only increases the anguish for people trying to bury their dead. Israel has yet to allow residents of northern Gaza, where the Christian cemetery is located, to return home.

Al-Natour said Tal al-Sultan cemetery received the body of a Christian man named Hani Suheil Abu Dawood because it was too dangerous for his family to travel amid the siege. They were unable to say goodbye to him properly.

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“So we’ve buried him here at the Tal al-Sultan cemetery. We don’t discriminate between Muslims or Christians here. He’s buried amongst Muslims and there are no signs that indicate he is Christian,” he said.

Cooperation between Christians and Muslims is not unusual in Gaza.

“I have to take care of him because he is Christian. We have to protect God’s creations on this earth,” said al-Natour.

“He is a human being, we respect human beings and appreciate humanity and we love every person on earth. It is not in our nature as Muslims to hate humanity.”

The war erupted on Oct. 7 when Hamas gunmen burst into Israel from Gaza and killed 1,200 people, according to official Israeli figures, triggering the Israeli assault.

The cemetery is likely to receive many more people as the Palestinian death toll rises every day.

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