11/17/2010, 00.00
EGYPT
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Increasing tension between Muslims and Copts. Burned houses, battle over church

Muslims set fire to ten houses and a shop in southern Egypt. In Talby, near the Pyramids, hundreds of Coptic Christians patrol the land for a church whose construction was opposed by fundamentalists.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A love story between a young Christian and a Muslim girl has sparked violence in a small town 465 km south of Cairo, security forces intervened to take control of the situation and prevent that the violence spreading to nearby towns. Several people were arrested. The attacks were launched after a young Copt and a Muslim girl were seen together at night in the village cemetery. Both are now under police custody. After the intervention of the police, and after the local religious leaders appealed to the faithful of the two communities, peace returned. Clashes between Christians and Muslims are not uncommon in southern Egypt, many over issues of land, or because of the construction of churches. In recent months, however, the clashes have begun to spread in the capital.

The most recent example is a current tug of war over the construction of a church. Thousands of Copts have been guarding the site of the church of Santa Maria in Talbiya, in the area of the Pyramids, since 11 November to protest the raid made by dozens of police officers to stop the construction and demolish a ladder and some toilets constructed inside the church, despite the necessary permits given by authorities. On hearing of the police raid, hundreds of Copts gathered on the site, to prevent it from being sealed off. They said they will not give up their church, and nobody will prevent them from praying there. "Even if President Mubarak himself came here, the construction will go on. They're just looking for excuses to slip inside and begin to demolish the church, "said one of their leaders, Mansour el-Sharkawy.

More than a million Copts live in the Talbiya, without even a church, and must travel several km every Sunday to attend religious services. The area is full of mosques built without permission, say the Copts, but when it comes to Christians, it takes years to obtain the necessary permits, and then the authorities find some excuse to stop everything. "When they saw the dome of the church, the Muslims went mad," said one of Christian leaders. And when they learned of the construction of the church, they began to throw garbage. A jihadi forum "Atahadi" (Challenge) which is said to have connections with Al Qaeda, published a story on its website called: "Images of the church building at the pyramids, and how to demolish it." And it said: "An easy and effective way which does not need weapons or explosives: just pour t sugar into the moulds of the columns, because the sugar chemically reacts with cement and sand".

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