(AINA) -- Yesterday Muslim Salafis assaulted Christians after Sunday mass, angry that Christians from neighboring villages who have no churches attend mass in the village of Tala, el Fashn, in the Beni Suef Governorate. The pastor of St Georges Church Father Cheroubim Chehab could not go out of church for hours after mass.
Eyewitnesses reported that as Christians left the church, they found a huge mob of mostly young Salafi Muslims waiting for them, armed with batons. The assault lead to 5 Copts being hospitalized after suffering broken limbs, and the torching of two cars which transported the congregation from the other villages.
The pastor of the church contacted the police, asking for help, however, they appeared hours later, only after Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, complained to the ministry of interior against el Fashn police and told them that no forces appeared in the village, and gave the names of six of the perpetrators and asked whether the police in el Fashn are afraid to arrest them. "I want the whole world to know," he said, "that a priest and his congregation are presently held captives in their church, afraid of the Salafi Muslims surrounding the church."
Cheroubim said that he looked from the roof of the church and the mob, from Tala and neighboring villages, was huge. "80% had beards." He said that he stayed inside the church as he "wanted no friction with the Muslims nor with the angry Copts, who wanted me to take other steps."
Later in the afternoon high officials from the security and police departments in Beni Suef arrived to the village for a reconciliation meeting, and while they were preparing for the meeting, Muslims went into Coptic homes and attacked the inhabitants. Five were hospitalized.
The problem started between the two parties nearly three months ago during Ramadan, when Salafist youths stopped Copts from neighboring villages from attending mass. "We had a meeting with the Muslim elders," said Rev. Cheroubim, "who told us to wait until after Ramadan when the youth will leave, however, when we wanted a second meeting to solve the matter, we were told to wait until security is better. When security was better Copts from other villages complained that they have been prevented from praying for three months since Ramadan." He said that only ten men from outside the village came to attend mass, so a large mob of Salafis waited for them after mass. "Muslims from the village held back the village Copts, so that the Salafis were able to beat and terrorize those Copts from outside the village."
Village Muslims insist that the church is an association and not a church and is for serving the village Christians only, who make up nearly 8% of the inhabitants.
Rev. Cheroubim said that he has been serving in St. George's church for 5 years and all that time Copts have come from neighboring villages to pray. "It was only during the last 10 days of Ramadan that this started, with complaints about the way the Christian girls are dressed, then it is not a church but an association, then no Copts to come from outside the village, but the main reason is mainly, as one Salafi from the mob was shouting, is that they want to the church closed."
High officials from Security department arranged for a reconciliation meetings in late afternoon with a group of Muslims and Christians, in which it was agreed that if the is officially licensed then Copts from outside can attend services any time, but if it is an association, then only village Copts will be allowed to attend the services. A penalty clause was included in which any part that attacks the other will pay 500,000 Egyptian pounds. Compensation for damages to the Coptic side will be paid by the government. No one was arrested.
According to Dr. Gabriel, St. George's Church was licensed five years ago. Rev. Charobim told Copts-United News the Deputy Security Director told the Christian party during the reconciliation meeting "Thank God for the outcome -- in other places people get killed."
The situation is now calm in the village.
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