Gaza Christians Fear New Extremists Over Hamas

( [email protected] ) Oct 30, 2007 07:24 AM EDT

The small Christian community in the Gaza Strip says it is more fearful of a new generation of extremists than of Hamas.

“We are not afraid of Hamas because as a government they are responsible for protecting people,” said Ramzi Ayyad, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We are afraid of those who are more extreme than Hamas,” he said. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the West and Israel.

Ramzi Ayyad’s brother Rami was the manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore and was murdered earlier this month by suspected local extremists.

Rami was found dead with visible signs of torture, including a gunshot wound in the head and several stab marks.

“The extremist groups have started to appear in the last six years because of the political atmosphere in the Middle East and because of the economic blockade of our country,” noted Hanna Massad, the pastor of Gaza City’s main Baptist Church.

Local extremists are widely thought to be responsible for the death of the Christian bookstore manager, although no one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

Prior to his death, Rami was accused of spreading Christianity and had received numerous anonymous death threats, according to his family.

The recent murder of the prominent Palestinian Christian and rising numbers of threat against Christians has taken Gaza’s Christian community by surprise. Previously, there had been no history of tension between Christians and their Muslim neighbors in Gaza.

“There are very few Christians in Gaza but they live right next to us on our streets. They live exactly as we do, with the same habits, the same customs,” said a Muslim university student, according to AFP.

Father Manuel Musallam, the head of Gaza’s 200-strong Catholic community said, “Christians are isolated just like Muslims. They are scared just like Muslims.”

Increase persecution, violence and economic discrimination has forced many Christians in Gaza, like many believers in other Middle East countries, to depart from their homeland.

"After [Rami's murder], 70 percent of Christians want to leave Gaza, because they are very afraid," Ramzi says. "But we love Gaza, it's our country, we have roots here, homes here. We will not know anyone if we go somewhere else."

There are about 75,000 Palestinian Christians but only about 2,500 – most of them Greek Orthodox – living in the Gaza Strip among nearly 1.5 million Muslims, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.