Gaza Strip: Unknown Assailants Attack Christian School

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Amid lawlessness and threats, tiny religious minority’s fears grow.

ISTANBUL (Compass Direct News) -- An attack on a Christian school in Gaza last weekend has created fear among the strip's tiny religious minority, a Palestinian Christian said.

Armed assailants broke into the El-Manara school in Gaza City’s Zaitoon Quarter at 2 a.m. on Saturday (May 31), according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The attackers tied down two school guards and beat them before stealing a bus belonging to the Palestinian Bible Society, the PCHR reported.

The PCHR said that unknown gunmen had carried out a similar attack against the school on February 21.

“The Center strongly condemns the recurrence of these attacks, and calls upon the authorities to investigate them seriously and prosecute the perpetrators,” the PCHR said.

A Palestinian Christian leader who requested anonymity for security reasons said that police had reportedly arrested one of the assailants. But he said it was too early in the investigation to say who was behind the attack.

“It created a lot of fear, and some people are terrified,” he told Compass.

The government’s apparent inability to find and prosecute the instigators of previous attacks was a legitimate cause for fear, he said. Last October, the manager of Gaza’s Bible Society bookshop, Rami Ayyad, was kidnapped and killed. According to Ayyad’s widow, police initially told her family that they had arrested the killer but changed their story a week later and denied having anyone in custody.

Ayyad’s murderer has not yet been found. Ayyad was not an employee of the El-Manara school as some media incorrectly reported, a school official told Compass.

Also in Gaza City, a bomb was detonated outside of the Zahwa Rosary School, run by Catholic nuns, at 4 a.m. on May 16. No one was hurt, and a school official who declined to be named said that it appeared to be the work of a poorly trained individual or group.

“We don’t feel safe. There’s no security here,” the official told The Associated Press (AP) on May 16, noting that police had not arrested the perpetrators of previous attacks against Christians.

Police officials told AP that they were investigating the incident. Monsignor Manuel Musallam, leader of Gaza’s Catholics, was unavailable when Compass contacted him to ask whether police had arrested anyone in relation to the school bombing.

“Christians in Gaza are targeted,” said the Palestinian Christian source who requested anonymity, listing attacks and religiously motivated death threats that members of the minority often receive by telephone, but he also noted that the attacks occurred within an overall situation of growing lawlessness.

“At the same time, you have a ‘loose’ situation in Gaza where people are using weapons and trying to steal,” he said.

The PCHR regularly reports on deaths and injuries caused by intra-Palestinian gun battles and the misuse of weapons in what it terms the “continuation of the security chaos.”

Since Hamas assumed full control of Gaza through violent clashes with its Palestinian rival Fatah in June 2007, Israel has increased already tight sanctions initially imposed following Hamas’ January 2006 electoral victory. Israel began restricting fuel shipments to the coastal strip last September, saying it would not provide goods to an entity whose rulers fire rockets at Israeli citizens.

The blockade has caused economic collapse in Gaza, with approximately 80 percent of Gaza residents relying on humanitarian assistance.

In its annual human rights report published last week, Amnesty International called Gaza “the gravest humanitarian crisis to date.” It condemned Israeli forces for killing 370 Palestinians, half of them civilians and 50 of them children, during attacks launched in retaliation to rocket fire on Israel in the past year.

Gaza’s Christians number approximately 3,000 (mostly Catholic and Greek Orthodox), out of a population of 1.3 million.

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct News