CNA spoke with O’Keefe Thursday afternoon, shortly before Israeli media reported that Israel’s security cabinet approved a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.
During the 11-day conflict that began May 10, Hamas – along with the allied group Islamic Jihad – fired thousands of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military conducted airstrikes on targets in Gaza, including on residential buildings and a high-rise that included offices of the Associated Press and other media, claiming that Hamas operated out of the buildings.
According to health officials in Gaza, 232 Palestinians have been killed – including 65 children and 39 women – and more than 1,900 have been wounded in the air strikes, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Israeli security officials have claimed that some of the civilian casualties in Gaza were caused by Hamas rocket misfires.
In Israel, meanwhile, 12 people were killed as of Wednesday, Israeli officials reported; hundreds of people injured by rocket attacks, according to Reuters. The vast majority of the Hamas rockets were intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system.
Pope Francis on Sunday, May 16, warned of a “spiral of death and destruction” in the region. He called the deaths of children due to the conflict “terrible and unacceptable,” after praying the Regina Coeli at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
O’Keefe said that an “immediate cease-fire” was the most pressing need for peace in the region, as well as a commitment to the “kinds of long-term peace process that the Catholic bishops and the Vatican have called for.” This includes a two-state solution with a viable sovereign state for Palestine and security for Israel, he said.
According to CRS staff members within Gaza, O’Keefe emphasized the scale of the “devastation” in the territory.
“What’s been destroyed in these 11 days is really unprecedented there,” O’Keefe said, noting extensive damage to water and sewage infrastructure, and housing.
For the Christian community in Gaza, CRS staff said that the intensive bombing has been “traumatizing.” Six Christian families have sought refuge at a Catholic parish in Gaza, while the Missionaries of Charity continue to operate a home for severely-disabled children.
The destruction has been exacerbated by twin crises – the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and long-standing issues of unemployment and poverty caused by Israel’s blockade of the narrow strip of land, O’Keefe said. While one COVID testing center in Gaza was destroyed, CRS is working with Caritas Jerusalem and other groups to get in-home care to families in Gaza suffering from the virus.