The Gaza City hospital that suffered a deadly blast Oct. 17 in the Israeli-Hamas war is formerly Southern Baptist, an International Mission Board (IMB) spokesperson confirmed to Baptist Press.
Early Palestinian reports claimed Israeli Defense Forces were responsible for the blast causing 500 deaths. However, western intelligence sources reported the blast was caused by an errant missile shot from within Gaza by Islamic Jihad Militants. The French newspaper Le Monde has only been able to find evidence of 10-50 deaths at the site of the hospital.
Southern Baptists operated Al Ahli Arab Hospital from 1954 until 1981—when it was known as Baptist Hospital—before turning the facility over to Anglicans. It’s one of 22 hospitals in northern Gaza.
Southern Baptists continued to work at the facility at least through 2007, according to news reports, but IMB cited security concerns in opting not to verify whether IMB workers are still deployed to the facility.
“Due to security considerations for our personnel and the national believers with whom we work, we usually don’t discuss their locations,” an IMB spokesperson told Baptist Press.
“However, we want to assure you that with any event in international news that could affect someone’s security, leadership is in contact with anyone who might be affected—even due to travel or other reasons—to confirm their safety and security. This is one of those situations.”
The hospital founded in 1882 continues to be referenced as Al Ahli Baptist Hospital in some news reports and is widely known in the region as the Baptist Hospital.
As recently as November 1994, Baptist Press reported that a Southern Baptist surgeon and his wife both worked at the hospital as missionaries from the U.S., and the couple are believed to have served in the area until 2007.
And, as recently as 1992, about 10 Southern Baptists workers were stationed in Gaza, according to Baptist Press archives.
Since 1922 the Palestinian Christian population has dwindled from 70,000 to about 1,000. In the last week of October, as Israeli troops massed at the border ahead of an ground invasion, more than 5,000 Palestinians had died in Gaza according to the United Nations, while AP reports 1,400 Israelis died in Hamas attacks, “with no ceasefire in sight.”
— IB staff with Baptist Press, Le Monde, Christianity Today