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Breaking News: Christians In Crossfire As Israeli Attacks On Gaza Kill “100 People”

ICC Note

“`Never in Palestinian history did we feel endangered until now,”

Sunday, 02 March 2008 Gaza (BosNewsLife)– The embattled Christian minority in Gaza faced more difficulties Sunday, March 2, as minority Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas suspended contacts with Israel Sunday, March 2, to protest an assault on Gaza which reportedly killed about 100 people, including infants.

The suspension came amid angry demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, run by the militant Hamas group, and clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank . Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to continue the strikes, saying they came in response to militant rocket attacks on Israel .

In one of the latest incidents, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City . Haniyeh was not at his office at the time of strike, news reports said.

Israel says the attack is a message that it is now targeting the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza . Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel . Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government rules the West Bank, described the Israeli actions in Gaza as a “holocaust,” and added that any peace negotiations with Israel make no sense at this time.

Christian In Cross-Fire

“See for yourself. Who are the terrorists,?” he wondered at a news conference, amid reports that babies were among the victims. The clashes added to anxiety among Christians in the besieged Gaza Strip. They now face an Israeli air assault as well as attacks from Muslim militants, according to several reports.

Just days before the attacks, Archimandrite Artemios, the Greek Orthodox priest who heads St. Porphyrius Church in Gaza City , said Christians face more persecution than ever. “`Never in Palestinian history did we feel endangered until now,” his said in remarks published by Bloomberg news agency.

Christians, a minority of 3,000 among the Gaza Strip’s 1.2 million Muslims, are increasingly menaced by Islamic fundamentalists in this Palestinian territory and Christians say they are on the verge of being driven out, he explained. “We face the question of whether we are part of this community or not.”

More Insecurity

Insecurity intensified last June when Hamas, the Muslim-based party at war with Israel , ousted the secular Fatah party, which favors peace negotiations, from control of Gaza . Fatah continues to control the West Bank .

While there are few indications Hamas itself is trying to intimidate Christians, the change brought to the surface underground Muslim groups that are actively hostile to Christians, said Hamdi Shaqura, 46, an official with the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights. “One problem is one that affects all: a state of lawlessness that lets extremism raise its head,” Shaqura told Bloomberg.

On February 15, arsonists firebombed a library operated by the Young Men’s Christian Association and destroyed 10,000 books, police and YMCA officials said. Last fall, kidnappers killed a Christian bookstore owner and the shop was blown up twice. In August last year, vandals damaged a Catholic church and school.

Difficult Night

Christians were preparing for another difficult night, amid fresh reports of Israeli attacks.

In a statement, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he recognized Israel ‘s right to defend itself, but he condemned what he called “the disproportionate and excessive used of force.” He also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and called for the immediate cessation of what he called acts of terrorism.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to the Middle East Monday, March 3, in an apparent desperate attempt to revive the peace process. (With BosNewsLife’s Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos and reports from the region).