gaza x-mas 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The head of Gaza's tiny Roman Catholic community on Sunday canceled Christmas eve's Midnight Mass celebration, citing recent Palestinian infighting between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements.
Father Manuel Musallem said Christian children in Gaza are scared, especially after the three young sons of a Palestinian security officer were gunned down in broad daylight as they went to school two weeks ago.
"The children told me Santa Claus won't come this year because it's too dangerous," he said.
Musallem celebrated evening Mass but called off Midnight Mass and Christmas day celebrations.
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Only about 40 people attended the evening service, held at the community's church in a poor Gaza City neighborhood. A lone tree inside the building was modestly decorated with lights.
"The church used to be more full. It is empty this year because of the economic situation and the inside fighting," said Mehir Suweilam, a worshipper.
Musallem said the community was protesting the infighting, which has claimed 17 lives since the young children were killed, as well as the international boycott of the Hamas-led government. The sanctions have caused widespread hardship in Gaza.
But Gaza's Christians also have been on edge since Pope Benedict XVI offended many Muslims with a speech widely deemed as insulting to the Prophet Muhammed.
About 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, a conservative Muslim society of roughly 1.4 million people where the radical Hamas group enjoys wide popularity. The Roman Catholic community has roughly 300 people; most of the area's Christians are Greek Orthodox.