Gaza Christians protest 'kidnapping' of young man
Published Tuesday 17/07/2012 (updated) 18/07/2012 17:43
Palestinian Christians attend the Orthodox Christmas mass at Al-Roum
Church in Gaza City on January 7, 2010. MaanImages/Wissam Nassar
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Christians in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in protest on Monday after the family of a young man said he was being forced to convert to Islam by an armed group, Ma'an's correspondent said.
Dozens of Christians protested in the Orthodox church in Gaza City, claiming that a Christian man and two girls had been kidnapped. A Muslim association said they had converted to Islam of their own free will.
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios said Ramiz al-Amash had been kidnapped by an Islamist group on Saturday after attempts to force him to convert from Christianity to Islam and he was prevented from calling his family.
The Palestinian Islamic Scholars Association in Gaza said al-Amash had been working to convert to Islam for over five months but had simply declared his faith on Saturday.
A woman, Huda Abu Dawoud Hilal, also declared her conversion last week and is she is being sheltered for her own protection, the association said, stressing that it would not stop their family visiting.
Archbishop Alexios said al-Amash's parents "went to the police to lodge a complaint about the kidnapping of their son, but they did nothing."
Al-Amash's mother became sick and had to be taken to hospital. The family managed to contact the kidnappers and they took Ramiz to see her surrounded by three jeeps filled with gunmen. They then took him away again to an unknown location.
"There are some groups trying to persuade young Christians to convert to Islam. They abduct them away from their parents and their families, they threaten them," he said.
Archbishop Alexios called on officials to intervene to stop abductions, stressing that there has been a good relationship between Muslims and Christians over the past years.
Hamas government spokesman Ayman Batniji said there had been no kidnappings in Gaza, adding that police in the coastal enclave have the utmost respect for Christians.
Meanwhile, West Bank Archbishop Atalla Hana called for certain groups in Gaza to stop provoking discord and treating Christians as not as patriotic as Muslim Palestinians.
He urged the Gaza government to take serious action so Christians will not be vulnerable to such attempts.
There are around 3,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, in a population of 1.6 million people.
Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said last year that Muslims and Christians in Gaza have "one goal and a common destiny."