Ancient church discovered at Gaza construction site
Palestinian tourism officials say construction workers in the Gaza Strip have discovered what they believe to be a Christian religious site from the Byzantine era.
Heyam al-Bitar, research director for the Hamas-run Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, said on Tuesday that the discovery included remnants of marble Corinthian pillars, foundations and crowns, some of them with a Greek cross.
She said the ruins likely belong to a church-like structure that existed in what is now Gaza City. Bitar added that the remnants probably date back to the sixth century, and are characteristic of the era of Emperor Justinian.
The items were discovered during construction of a shopping center.
However, the discovery has started a battle between archaeologists who are calling for the site to be preserved and the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, which owns the land and wants the commercial development to continue.
Bitar, screamed at bulldozers to stop their work on Tuesday as they roughly moved marble columns from under the sand, breaking one.
Technicians from the ministry of antiquities were hurriedly taking columns, as well as ornate marble bases, to the Qasr al-Basha - the only museum in Gaza - to be cleaned and restored before being presented.
Mohammed Al-Zarad, a researcher in archaeology at Gaza's Islamic University, said it was a "very important site which must be protected."
"We found many of the rock layers had fossils in them dating back to the bronze age," he added, with other discoveries including plates and pottery - some of which were perhaps smashed by bulldozers.
|Archaeologists are calling for construction to stop and for the site to be preserved [AFP]|
Zarad said there were not enough resources to search for relics within Gaza and called on the world heritage body UNESCO to step in and "save the monuments of Gaza from loss."
Gaza, like much of the Palestinian territories is filled with antiquities.
The territory has at various times come under the rule of Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans.
Bitar said it was important to try to find a solution.
"We extend our hand to all to cooperate in research into Gaza and its history because Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world."
"There are treasures beneath our feet," she added.