Prominent Palestinian Christian killed in Gaza

GAZA Sun Oct 7, 2007 3:19pm BST

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GAZA (Reuters) - A prominent Palestinian Christian in the Gaza Strip was found dead on Sunday after being abducted near his home, six months after the religious bookshop he ran was blown up.

There was no claim of responsibility for the killing of Rami Ayyad, director of the Protestant Holy Bible Society.

Medical officials in the Hamas-controlled territory said he had been stabbed and shot. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the killing and said the Islamist movement "would not allow anyone to sabotage" Muslim-Christian relations.

Some 3,000 Christians live among 1.5 million Muslims in the Gaza Strip and relations between two communities have generally been good.

"We are one people waging a single struggle for independence and freedom," said Haniyeh, dismissed as prime minister by President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah faction after Hamas Islamists violently took over Gaza in June.

Neighbours said unknown assailants seized Ayyad, 31, on a street near his home in Gaza City late on Saturday. His body was later found elsewhere in the city.

Ayyad's mother, Anisa, said her son had telephoned his family after he was seized.

"He said he was going to be with the 'people' for another two hours and that if he was not back (by then), he would not be returning for a long, long time," she said. "Rami redeemed Christ with his blood. Rami redeemed the Bible with his blood."

Last April, an explosion at the Holy Bible Society in Gaza City blew out windows and ignited a fire that burned shelves of Christian religious texts and pamphlets. Police said a bomb caused the blast.

Attacks against Christian sites in the territory are rare but at least 40 Internet cafes and video cassette shops have been blown up in the past year.

Many of the bombings were claimed by "The Righteous Swords of Islam", a little-known group opposed to what it described as violations of Islamic tenets.

"This crime will not pass unpunished and the ministry has opened an investigation," the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the territory said in a statement, promising to bring Ayyad's killers to justice.

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