Gaza Baptists targeted by extremists

Gaza City, Gaza Strip - The Gaza Strip is home to 1.5 million Muslims - and about 3,000 increasingly frightened Christians.

The small evangelical Baptist community has been a principal target of the extremists because of its missionary work, which has been halted.

"Christians get killed here, let alone a Muslim who converted," said Ashraf, 36, who did not give his last name. "I stopped going to church even before the coup."

And recently, even his church leader, pastor Hanna Massad, has fled to the West Bank.

The murder of Baptist congregant Rami Eyad in October sent shock waves through Gaza's Christian community.

Eyad's religious book shop had been bombed in April. Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghusain condemned the killing but said that no one has been arrested.

He blamed Al Qaeda elements and said Hamas was not involved.

"We have increased security in Christian neighborhoods and near churches," Ghusain said.

The Rev. Archimandrite Artemios leads St. Porphyrous Geek Orthodox Church, founded 1,600 years ago in Gaza's old city.

He says he dares not try to persuade anyone to join his dwindling congregation.

"If I baptize a man, I will have to visit his tomb," Artemios said. "We are against anything, even conversion, if it jeopardizes the peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians."