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Arab Christians in Crossfire as Israel Fights At Two Fronts

Friday, 14 July 2006

By Stefan J. Bos,

JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (BosNewsLife)– Arab Christians were in the crossfire Friday, July 14, as Israel fought at two fronts in Gaza and Lebanon as part of attempts to end a barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah and other Muslim militant groups on Israeli towns– and free at least three captured soldiers.

“The blasts from falling bombs can be heard for almost 24 hours a day whilst survival is made extremely challenging by severe food shortages, no petrol, and shortages of water and electricity,” said investigators of the international Christian rights group Open Doors, who visited Gaza .

“On top of this, the Christians in Gaza continue to face religiously motivated pressure,” in the predominantly Muslim region. “Many Palestinian Christians are near to breaking point and trying to flee,” Open Doors said in a message to BosNewsLife News Center .

Meanwhile anticipating revenge attacks, hundreds of thousands of people in Israel were believed to hide in bomb shelters as the Israeli army pounded positions in neighboring Lebanon from where Hezbollah militants reportedly fired over 100 Katyusha rockets on towns and communities across northern Israel .

The Israeli government says Iran and Syria sponsor Hezbollah. It also criticized the Lebanese government for not attacking Hezbollah, but analysts said that would mean the break-up of Lebanon .

TWO SOLDIERS KIDNAPPED

Hezbollah also kidnapped two soldiers this week, identified as Ehud Goldwasser, 31, of Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, of Kiryat Motzkin. Their medical conditions were unknown.

Israeli warplanes Friday, July 14, managed to destroy the building housing the headquarters of Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Beirut , the group’s television

station reported. There were no reports of casualties.

Earlier Israel ‘s military blasted Lebanon ‘s air and road links to the outside world and brought its offensive to the capital for the first time on Friday, July 14. Three days of fighting between Hezbollah killed at least over 70 people, mainly civilians, several sources said.

In Gaza Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the United States to pressure Israel to help halt the offensive on Jerusalem ‘s end. Fighting on Israel ‘s southern front that began with the abduction of an Israeli soldier there, has killed at least 86 Palestinians, news reports said.

WELL PLANNED ATTACK

The 19-year-old French-Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped in what observers described as “a well-planned attack” on an Israeli military outpost on the Gaza Strip border.

In a phone call with the moderate Palestinian leader, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly pledged to add $50 Million to humanitarian aid for Palestinians. The region has lost desperately-needed international support since a government takeover by Hamas militants.

The militants blew a hole in a border gate between Egypt and Gaza Friday, July 14, wounding an Egyptian officer, enabling hundreds of Palestinians who were trapped in Egypt because of the fighting to rush back to their homes.

By late Friday, July 14, Israel pulled ground troops out of the central Gaza Strip, but wanted forces remain stationed in the southern part of the area to continue the hunt for a missing Israeli serviceman seized last month by Palestinian militants.

ARAB CHRISTIANS PRESSURED

Open Doors warned the latest fighting would additional pressure on Arab Christians living in mainly Muslim areas, as residents search for scapegoats. Baptist Pastor Hanna Massad, who runs an Open Doors-backed Christian bookshop in Gaza City , said Christians have to keep a low profile.

“Sometimes people tell us to leave Gaza . They feel Palestinians can’t be Christian,” Hanna added in a statement distributed by Open Doors and obtained by BosNewsLife. “We also have to watch very closely how we share the Gospel and with whom we share it.”

He said Christians “live under huge pressure and the threat of a bombing by extremists is always present.”

Earlier this year we had to close our bookshop for a couple of weeks after two pipe bombs went off.” Hanna said Christian women have also become targets for attacks, as they dress differently than Muslims.

GAZA CHAOS CONTINUES

“In the chaos that is Gaza , Christians are struggling more than most as they face religiously motivated pressure and suspicion,” Eddie Lyle, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland told BosNewsLife.

“No wonder so many want to leave…,” Lyle said. “They are an isolated and struggling minority who desperately need Christians in the West to remember them as they pray for the region. After all, if the Christians get forced out of the region, who will be left to show the love of Christ in that difficult place?”

The World Council of Churches, which is also active in Gaza , called the new wave of violence in the Middle East “a cause for alarm around the world.” It said “all sides should cease the violent confrontation and ensure the protection of civilians.”