Palestinian Christians Fear New Hamas Government

Sunday, February 19, 2006

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (BosNewsLife) -- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, February 18, asked the militant group Hamas to form the next Palestinian government but warned he would not accept attacks against the Christian minority.

"Palestinian citizens of Muslim and Christian faith have the same rights before the law," he said in Ramallah during his inaugural address of the new Hamas dominated Parliament.

His comments came shortly after the Gaza office of the Palestine Bible Society (PBS) was apparently closed this week after militants threatened to blow it up by March 1 unless all staff members left.

It came as a major setback for the PBS, which distributes Bibles and aid, and said it had already worked under difficult circumstances.

"During the worst periods of fighting and gunfire, our relief team was able to reach the families in the Gaza camps and villages. We have received many letters of thanks and appreciation for our work there [and] the demand for Bibles was high during these times of turmoil..." the group said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.


"Our programs for children continued to be the main focus of our ministry. With over 50 schools visited during the year, we helped to bring smiles to the faces of children who have been left devastated by the ongoing violence and terror."

Earlier this month a published leaflet signed by a Fatah militia and the Islamic Jihad also said that the EU office "and churches in Gaza could come under attack," following the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

In his speech Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, stressed that "no group would be authorized to implement sectarian actions" during the new legislature, and that "one of the main tasks of the new government" must be that of “protecting all sacred sites, Christian or Muslim."


He also demanded that Hamas, sworn to destroy Israel, respects previous international agreements, saying this aid was crucial to reach Palestinian statehood. Despite Abbas' condemnation of attacks against Christians, Palestinian believers remained on edge Saturday, February 18.

Before Saturday's session the local Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan urged Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip "not to panic over the militant Islamic group Hamas’s victory" in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

"We ask the Palestinian people, especially Palestinian Christians, not to panic and arrive at hasty conclusions but to persevere and remain steadfast in this land," he said in published remarks.


"Now more than ever we need to continue to be an active, integral part of the people and to continue as Christian witnesses for justice, instruments of peace and ministers of reconciliation," said the Palestinian-born Lutheran church leader.

Bishop Younan’s comments were seen however as indicating concern that the Hamas victory could further speed up Christian immigration from the Palestinian areas.

There are about 50,000 Christians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Arab East Jerusalem, comprising less than two per cent of the Palestinian population, according to church estimates. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from the Palestinian territories).

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