Delga (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A small-scale civil war broke out yesterday in Delga, a town in Upper Egypt following its takeover by Islamists over a month ago.
According to local sources, the Egyptian military and police retook the town this morning from armed extremist militia, only thanks to the intervention of the air force.
From Cairo, the orders are clear. Those responsible for the violence must be arrested and Delga must be back under state control.
The military moved in following continuous allegations of religious persecution against Christians by the Muslim Brotherhood. For weeks, the army and police declined to intervene for lack of manpower and to avoid casualties.
Some 20,000 Christians lived in the city, which remains off-limits to outsiders.
On 14 August, Islamists took advantage of the chaos that began when the authorities began clearing pro-Morsi camps in Cairo to occupy Delga and impose Sharia law on the entire population.
After their takeover, members of the Muslim Brotherhood torched at least 62 homes and forced half of the Christian population to flee Minya Governorate.
Many of the homeless who stayed found shelter with other Christian and Muslim families.
Coptic residents said that some Islamic leaders tried to negotiate with the Islamists to stop the destruction of homes.
Youssef Alfi, a resident, said that extremists started to force Christians to pay the "jizya", the ancient poll tax tolerated non-Muslim minorities have to pay if they want to survive in Islamic territory.
The "tax" ranged from a minimum of 200 Egyptian pounds (US$ 30) to 500 pounds (US$ 70) per household, a considerable sum considering that an average Egyptian salary is around US$ 135 per month.
Anyone who did not pay had his house set on fire and destroyed.
Even those who fled town had to pay for fear that when they came back they would find their property burnt.
On 14 August, "Thousands of Islamists were attacking all the houses and we rushed to escape from the houses, leaving everything," a woman said. "Everything we possess was looted and some parts of our houses were torched.
"We now live at homes of Christians and some just Muslims hosted others, because we cannot return to our homes," a man added.
Islamists especially vented their rage on churches and monasteries. Like many other villages and towns of Upper Egypt, Delga has a mixed population. Christians and Muslims live and work in buildings next to each other.
Local sources said that the Muslim Brotherhood destroyed the town's three main Christian sites: the ancient Coptic Church of the Virgin Mary, a building that dates back to the 4th Century AD; St George's Church; and the Anba Abraam Monastery, which had already been attacked in 1993.
The Coptic church is now a pile of rubble. Its ancient furniture, dome and altars were destroyed. Salafists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood even stole its marble slabs.
Nothing was spared, said Fr Abraam Tanas, the priest of the Church of the Virgin Mary and resident in the monastery.
The attack came from the nearby Ebad el- Rahman mosque, which is located less than a hundred metres from the Coptic monastery.
Attackers broke into the building. After burning and destroying objects, stealing works of art, and desecrating ancient relics, they wrote graffiti on church walls, like 'There is no god but Allah' and 'Egypt is Islamic'.
On the monastery's main wall, extremists also wrote 'Delga Martyrs Mosque'.