Palm Sunday church bombing kills 22 in Egypt

People gather at the Virgin Church in Cairo October 21, 2013. Several people were killed in an explosion near a church in the Egyptian Nile delta city of Tanta today. (REUTERS)
Updated 09 April 2017
0

Palm Sunday church bombing kills 22 in Egypt

CAIRO: A bomb blast at a church north of Cairo killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens who had gathered for Palm Sunday mass, officials said, in the latest apparent attack on Egypt’s Coptic Christians.
Some 71 people were wounded in the blast, which struck at a Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Cairo, according to a health ministry toll.
Images broadcast by private television stations showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the church next to shredded wooden benches.
Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.
“The explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, told AFP.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.
Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29 to show solidarity with Egypt’s Christian community.
Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the Daesh group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.
The bombing of the church within a compound that also holds the seat of the Coptic papacy was the deadliest attack against the minority in recent memory.
A spate of jihadist-linked attacks in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.
About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after IS released a video in February calling for attacks on the religious minority.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid called Sunday’s bombing “a failed attempt against our unity.”
“Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday,” he tweeted.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also condemned Sunday’s apparent attack, stressing Egypt’s determination to “eliminate terrorism.”
The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said Sunday’s bombing aimed to “destabilize security and... the unity of Egyptians.”
Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Mursi’s ouster in July 2013.
More than 40 churches were attacked nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Mursi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International later said more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged, adding that at least four people were killed.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Mursi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.
In October 2011, almost 30 people — mostly Coptic Christians — were killed after the army charged at a protest outside the state television building in Cairo to denounce the torching of a church in southern Egypt.
In May that year, clashes between Muslims and Copts left 15 dead in the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba where two churches were attacked.
A few months earlier, the unclaimed bombing of a Coptic church killed more than 20 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on New Year’s Day.
Pope Francis will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral — the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
0

Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.