TEL AVIV – A Palestinian group today bombed a Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip in the latest targeting of Christians in territories evacuated by Israel and now controlled by the Palestinians.

A group calling itself the Sword of Islam claimed responsibility for the blast, which targeted a store funded by American Protestants that exclusively sold Christian books. Two nearby Internet cafes also were bombed.

The Sword of Islam previously has stated it is allied with al-Qaida and is seeking to impose an Islamist theocracy in the Gaza Strip. It has taken credit in recent months for the bombings and attempted bombings of Internet cafes, music stores, pool halls and other establishments considered secular. Palestinian security officials say the Sword of Islam is an offshoot of the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees terror organization.

Sheik Abu Saqer, a prominent Gaza-based preacher and leader of the Jihadia Salafiya Islamic outreach movement, claimed to WND the Christian bookstore was “proselytizing and attempting to convert our people.”

“As a principle we believe that Jews and Christians will always do everything in order to keep Muslims far from their religion,” Abu Saqer said.

Targeting Christians

The bookstore bombing was the latest targeting of Christians in Palestinian cities evacuated by Israel. In November, a church in the Gaza Strip was badly damaged in a fire security officials attributed to local Islamist groups.

In September, Palestinian gunmen attacked and set fire to the Young Men’s Christian Association headquarters in Qalqiliya, a large West Bank city controlled by Hamas. Qalqiliya was previously administered by Israel, but was handed to the Palestinian Authority as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

One political source in the city told WND at the time of the attack, “the identity of the attackers is well known to Hamas. We don’t expect the Hamas-controlled police, the Hamas city council or the Hamas Interior Ministry to do anything about this attack.”

The source called the arson a “warning to YMCAs and Christian groups in the Palestinian areas that they are not safe.”

One Christian leader, an aide to Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch Michel Sabah who asked his name be withheld out of fear of Muslim retaliation, called the threats against Qalqiliya’s YMCA part of a general trend of Christian persecution in Palestinian areas.

“It’s been happening all over the West Bank and Gaza,” said the aide.

There have been rampant reports of abuses and persecution in several West Bank towns taken over by the PA.

Anti-Christian riots have been reported in Ramallah, Nazareth and surrounding villages, as well as in towns in Gaza. In Bethlehem, local Christians long have complained of anti-Christian violence. The city’s Christian population, once 90 percent, declined drastically since the PA took control in December 1995. Christians now make up less than 25 percent of Bethlehem, according to Israeli surveys.

Some analysts called the recent bombings of secular and Christian institutions in Gaza recent indications Hamas may be seeking to impose Islamic rule on the Palestinian population.

Israeli officials say Hamas in the Gaza Strip has established hard-line Islamic courts and created the Hamas Anti-Corruption Group, described as a kind of “morality police” operating within Hamas’ organization. Hamas has denied the existence of the group, but it recently carried out a high-profile “honor killing” widely covered by the Palestinian media.

A Hamas-run council in the West Bank came under international criticism last year when it barred an open-air music and dance festival, declaring it was against Islam.

‘West can learn from Islamic values’

In response to the uproar, Hamas chief in Gaza and former foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar told WND: “I hardly understand the point of view of the West concerning these issues. The West brought all this freedom to its people but it is that freedom that has brought about the death of morality in the West. It’s what led to phenomena like homosexuality, homelessness and AIDS.”

Asked if Hamas is seeking to impose hard-line Islamic law on the Palestinians, al-Zahar responded, “The Palestinian people are Muslim people, and we do not need to impose anything on our people because they are already committed to their faith and religion. People are free to choose their way of life, their way of dress and behavior.”

Al-Zahar said his terror group, which demands strict dress codes for females, respects women’s rights.

“It is wrong to think that in our Islamic society there is a lack of rights for women. Women enjoy their rights. What we have, unlike the West, is that young women cannot be with men and have relations outside marriage. Sometimes with tens of men. This causes the destruction of the family institution and the fact that many kids come to the world without knowing who are their fathers or who are their mothers. This is not a modern and progressed society,” al-Zahar explained.

The terror chieftain told WND the West can learn from his group’s Islamic values.

“Here I refer to what was said in the early ’90s by Britain’s Prince Charles at Oxford University. He spoke about Islam and its important role in morality and culture. He said the West must learn from Islam how to bring up children properly and to teach them the right values.”


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