.- The Christian minority in Gaza are under increasing pressure by Hamas to become Muslims, submit to Islamic law or leave the Gaza Strip, says a report by the Cybercast News Service.
Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group that won last year's Palestinian parliamentary elections, completed a military takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, handily defeating Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Following the takeover, Hamas announced that an era of strict Islamic rule had begun in Gaza.
According to a report in Middle East Newsline last week, Hamas is moving fast against non-Muslims in the area. Fatah officials who spoke to the news service on condition of anonymity said Hamas is pressing leaders of the 2,000-member Christian community to either convert to Islam or emigrate.
The Jerusalem Post earlier reported that Prof. Sana al-Sayegh, dean of the science and technology faculty at Palestine University and a Christian, had been abducted by several of her Muslim colleagues and forced to convert and marry a Muslim man.
Weeks after her disappearance in late June, al-Sayegh's family was invited to a meeting with several aides of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Surrounded by Hamas gunmen, a distraught and crying al-Sayegh informed her family that she had become a Muslim.
Hamas maintains that al-Sayegh's conversion was a matter of personal choice and that it is vigorously protecting the rights of Gaza's Christians, but Dr. Walid Phares, a leading Middle East expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Cybercast News Service that the exact opposite is true.
"Hamas states that it 'protects' minorities with the same energy as the Taliban and the Islamist regime in Sudan," said Phares. However, "the reality is that the Jihadist agenda of Hamas includes gradual but strict implementation of shari'a law.”
Phares said that as a result of this increasing Islamic pressure, Gaza's Christian community is considering fleeing the area en masse. Many have already left.
In related news, about 300 Palestinians on Monday violated a Hamas ban on public demonstrations and gathered in a central Gaza City square chanting, "We want freedom." Many others were prevented from ever reaching the location.
Heavily armed Hamas militiamen quickly broke up the protest, wounding a large number of people with clubs and rifle butts, and arresting others.
Later in the day, Hamas forces raided the local offices of international and Palestinian news agencies and confiscated all coverage of the demonstration.