Christian leaders in the Gaza Strip were intimidated into attending and expressing support for a speech yesterday in which the territory’s Hamas leader urged the worldwide spread of Islam, according to sources in Gaza’s Christian community.
Artinious Alexious, priest of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Church, and Emanuel Salum, a Catholic leader in Gaza, were at a major speech yesterday by Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas government in Gaza and deposed prime minister of the previously Hamas-run Palestinian Authority.
Also present were hundreds of gunmen, including members of a group, Jihadia Salafiya, suspected of carrying out anti-Christian attacks in Gaza such as the lobbing of grenades last September at Alexious’ church.
Hamas banned most international media from covering the event, only allowing entry to journalists accredited by the terror group.
A major theme of Haniyeh’s speech was the spread of Islamic values throughout the world, according to reporters in attendance.
Haniyeh also strongly denied Hamas had plans to take over the West Bank, as many recent reports had speculated.
The reporters present said at one point during his speech, Haniyeh spoke about the “excellent” situation for Christians living under Hamas rule in Gaza.
He pointed to the two Christian leaders in attendance, at which point the two raised their hands and nodded in agreement, witnesses told WND.
According to sources in Gaza’s Christian community speaking on condition of anonymity, Alexious and Salum were intimidated into attending the speech. The sources said in recent weeks Haniyeh’s office repeatedly called the Christian leaders to request they free their schedules to assist in yesterday’s event.
“The priests thought it was a diplomatic way to threaten them and put pressure on them,” said one source.
“After discussions within the Christian community leadership it was decided it would be dangerous not to assist in the meeting even though it would be very strange to see priests assisting in a meeting about the spread of Islam,” the source said.
Hamas in June seized complete control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah amid widespread fears it would impose hard-line Islamic rule in the territory, and that life for Christians might deteriorate.
About 3,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of over 1 million.
There have been a slew of recent alleged anti-Christian attacks in Gaza, including the murder last month of a Christian bookstore owner whose beaten, bullet-ridden body was found after his shop had been repeatedly targeted by Islamists. Rami Ayyad, who managed the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, had also been threatened multiple times by local Islamist groups.
Christians warned: Accept Islamic law
Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of Jihadia Salafiya, an Islamic outreach movement that recently announced the opening of a “military wing” to enforce Muslim law in Gaza, told WND in a recent interview all Christians in Gaza engaged in missionary activity will be “dealt with harshly.”
Abu Saqer’s group, present at Haniyeh’s speech yesterday, has been accused of firebombing Ayyad’s bookstore in April. Jihadia Salafiya is also suspected of a series of Islamist attacks, including firebombing Internet cafes and one in May against a United Nations school in Gaza after it allowed boys and girls to participate in the same sporting event. One person was killed in that attack.
“[Now that Hamas is in power,] the situation has changed 180 degrees in Gaza,” said Abu Saqer, speaking from Gaza.
“Jihadia Salafiya and other Islamic movements will ensure Christian schools and institutions show publicly what they are teaching to be sure they are not carrying out missionary activity,” he said.
Abu Saqer accused the leadership of the Gaza Christian community of “proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals.”
“This missionary activity is endangering the entire Christian community in Gaza,” he said.
Abu Saqer claimed there was “no need” for the thousands of Christians in Gaza to maintain a large number of institutions in the territory.
He said Hamas “must work to impose an Islamic rule or it will lose the authority it has and the will of the people.”
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