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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hamas-Fatah violence mars Christmas for Gaza Christians

Last update - 14:13 24/12/2006   

Hamas-Fatah violence mars Christmas for Gaza Christians
By Reuters

The first Christmas in Gaza the under Hamas Islamist movement has been marred by the worst internal fighting and economic conditions in a decade.
Gaza's annual Christmas parade and midnight mass have been cancelled. For the first time, no Christmas decorations adorn the giant pine tree in the main square.
"We do not feel the cheer of Christmas," Um Tareq, a Greek Orthodox woman, lamented
"The general atmosphere in Gaza is a sad one. We used to see Palestinian children killed by Israeli bullets. Now they are killed by Palestinian bullets. How can we celebrate Christmas in such conditions?" asked Manuel Musallam, a Catholic priest.
Gaza's estimated 3,000 Christians live peacefully among 1.4 million Muslims. But most Christmas festivities in Gaza have been scaled back to protest at the fighting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and forces loyal to the ruling Hamas.
Several hundred people usually participate in the annual Gaza parade. Muslim clerics and government representatives have taken part in previous years. The tree is traditionally decorated with multi-coloured lights.
Most of Gaza's Christians are concentrated in Gaza City, where they own shops and businesses, and attend Sunday mass at two churches. Some of Gaza's best-known doctors, lawyers, jewellers and judges are Christians.
The vast majority of them are Greek Orthodox, and there is also a small community of 200 Catholics.
"We are well-respected, well protected and well behaved," one Catholic said.
Gaza Christians are not associated with Hamas, though some are affiliated with Fatah and Marxist groups. They appear not to have been involved in the internal violence to date.
Members of the community say they have as much religious freedom under Hamas as they had when Fatah was in control of the Palestinian Authority.
Tensions in Gaza have risen since Abbas called for early Palestinian elections, a move Hamas called a "coup."
At least 10 Palestinians have been killed since Abbas's announcement. Sporadic fighting in recent days has cast doubt on a cease-fire agreed by the rival factions.
Um Tareq's children lost three classmates, gunned down by militants because their father was a top Abbas intelligence officer.
She said their Christmas was ruined. "My kids are still in shock at what is happening on the ground between the Palestinians. It was never like that," she said.

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