After undergoing three years of restoration, remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church in the Gaza Strip were reopened on Monday with the strip's Hamas group leaders embracing their "Christian brothers."
The remains of a church and monastery were first discovered in 1997 in Jabalia, a city in northern Gaza, over an area spanning roughly 800 square meters (957 square yards).
The church floor is adorned with what Hamas officials described as "rare" mosaics, including depictions of animals, hunting scenes and palm trees.
Visitors can now gaze at the mosaics from newly-built elevated wooden walkways.
Gaza's tourism ministry said the church's original walls were adorned with religious texts written in ancient Greek dating from the era of Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled Byzantium from the year 408 to 450.
At a ceremony marking the site's reopening, the most senior Christian cleric in Gaza, Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, recalled Christianity's long history in the coastal territory, noting that "monasticism began in the Gaza strip in the year 280."
Issam al-Daalis, who heads the government works department in Gaza, said the site's restoration was an example of Hamas's "embracing" of its "Christian brothers in Gaza."
French organization Premiere Urgence Internationale restored the church at almost $250,000. The British Council also supported the work.
About 2.3 million people live in the Gaza Strip, which Israel has blockaded since 2007