Christian leaders in the Gaza Strip were intimidated into attending and expressing support for a speech yesterday in which the territory's Hamas leader urged the worldwide spread of Islam, according to sources in Gaza's Christian community. Artinious Alexious, priest of Gaza's Greek Orthodox Church, and Emanuel Salum, a Catholic leader in Gaza, were at a major speech yesterday by Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas government in Gaza and deposed prime minister of the previously Hamas-run Palestinian Authority.
Also present were hundreds of gunmen, including members of a group, Jihadia Salafiya, suspected of carrying out anti-Christian attacks in Gaza such as the lobbing of grenades last September at Alexious' church. Hamas banned most international media from covering the event, only allowing entry to journalists accredited by the terror group.
A major theme of Haniyeh's speech was the spread of Islamic values throughout the world, according to reporters in attendance. Haniyeh also strongly denied Hamas had plans to take over the West Bank, as many recent reports had speculated.
The reporters present said at one point during his speech, Haniyeh spoke about the "excellent" situation for Christians living under Hamas rule in Gaza. He pointed to the two Christian leaders in attandence, at which point to two raised their hands and nodded in agreement, witnesses told WND.
According to sources in Gaza's Christian community speaking on condition of anonymity, Alexious and Salum were intimidated into attending the speech. The sources said in recent weeks Haniyeh's office repeatedly called the Christian leaders to request they free their schedules to assist in yesterday's event.
"The priests thought it was a diplomatic way to threaten them and put pressure on them," said one source.
"After discussions within the Christian community leadership it was decided it would be dangerous not to assist in the meeting even though it would be very strange to see priests assisting in a meeting about the spread of Islam," the source said.