west bank church 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
A previously unknown group calling itself the Huda [Guidance] Army Organization threatened on Tuesday to target all Christians living in the Gaza Strip unless Pope Benedict XVI apologized for his remarks against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
"We will target all Crusaders in the Gaza Strip," the group said in a leaflet, "until the pope issues an official apology." The group also threatened to attack churches and Christian-owned institutions and homes.
"All centers belonging to Crusaders, including churches and institutions, will from now on be targeted," it said. "We will even attack the Crusaders as they sit intoxicated in their homes." The group said preparations had been completed "to strike at every Crusader and infidel on the purified land of Palestine."
It also threatened "to strike with an iron fist anyone who dares to defend the Crusaders." The latest threat is the second of its kind against Christians in the Gaza Strip over the past few days.
Earlier, another anonymous group calling itself the Army of the Sword of the Right also threatened to attack Christians and churches in the Gaza Strip in response to the pope's remarks. The group also claimed responsibility for an attack on a church in Gaza City. At least seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been torched or shot up in recent days.
At least 4,500 Christians live in the Gaza Strip among more than 1.3 million Muslims. A Christian leader in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post that his community was taking the latest threats very seriously.
"We have appealed to the Palestinian Authority for protection," he said. "Christians here are keeping a very low profile and many of them would like to leave the area out of fear for their lives."
On Sunday, a number of Muslim clerics in the Gaza Strip warned the pope that he must convert to Islam if he wanted to be spared. The clerics called on all Palestinians to observe a "day of rage" against the pope next Friday by staging demonstrations in the streets and holding public rallies. They also condemned the attacks on the churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.