An ancient Greek symbol for Christ was reportedly discovered at the ruins of a Byzantine church in Gaza dating back from around 1,500 years ago, the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry revealed Monday.
"Our first thought is that the site is a cathedral or a church from the Byzantine period," said Jamal Abu Rida, the general director of the antiquities ministry, according to Reuters.
"During that era, there was a great interest among the Byzantine rulers to build churches in the Gaza Strip."
Construction workers say they discovered segments of marble pillars with ornate Corinthian capitals, alongside a 90-centimeter foundation stone bearing a Greek symbol for Jesus Christ.
Abu Rida noted that Gaza is a place of great historical significance, which once hosted diverse populations of Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians and Persians during the Roman period. Christian churches began being built in the late 4th and 5th centuries, before Islam took over the region with the conquest of Gaza by the Muslim general Amr ibn al-As in 637 C.E.
He admitted that the ministry does not have the necessary resources to properly excavate the site, but said the mission is to "preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam."
"The site we are talking about is 2,000 square meters and 10 meters deep and requires hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation to extract pieces and read the texts written on them," Abu Rida added.
The construction workers had been preparing the ground for a shopping center, but now the preparation may have to be halted if excavation efforts discover more ancient pieces.
The Gaza Strip meanwhile remains a volatile region, with Christians living in the Palestinian Territories facing a "complex" situation regarding their religious freedom rights, as persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA pointed out.
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"Christians are squeezed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their ethnicity causing many restrictions from the Israeli side and their religion putting them in a minority position within the Palestinian community," the group said back in March.
"The West Bank's ruling Fatah Party is formally based on secular principles, and Christians enjoy several rights. Though Christians are largely tolerated by Islamist Hamas, the rights of Christians are neither upheld nor protected in Gaza. Apart from this discrimination, Christians face threats from radical Islamic vigilante groups."
Israel extended a gesture to 850 Palestinian Christians in Gaza, however, when it allowed them to visit Jerusalem to celebrate Easter for the first time this year.
"Muhammad al-Maqadma [spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs] said the permits were the result of 'dedicated efforts' by Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh in order to enable hundreds of Christians to celebrate the holidays within a span of 45 days," Ma'an News reported at the time.
"This is the first time such a large number of Christians from Gaza received permits to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem," al-Maqadma said.