Unholy clash in the Holy Land

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

JERUSALEM Christians and Muslims have clashed in one of the worst riots in years in the Palestinian Authority.

Hundreds of Christians and Muslims battled each other with metal poles and stones in Bet Sahour, adjacent to Bethlehem. Palestinian police were summoned but failed to stop the fighting on July 14 in which scores of people were injured.

For centuries, Bet Sahour was regarded as a Christian community. Over the last 20 years, Christian emigration and Muslim population growth have changed the demography of the town, which has become a Hamas stronghold.

The riots were sparked by a Muslim said to have placed a camera in the changing room of a Bet Sahour clothing shop. After the Muslim photographed a partially-clad Christian woman, he fled with his camera.

The shopowner chased the Muslim, who was not a Bet Sahour resident, and the photographer fled into a nearby taxi. Christians from Bet Sahour arrived and smashed and torched a taxi and the Muslim fled into a nearby mosque.

At that point, Muslims from the mosque emerged and confronted the Christians. Both sides called in reinforcements, which intensified the fighting.

The Muslim photographer was captured and badly beaten by the Christian mob. Police then intervened and took the Muslim to jail.

Hundreds of Muslims then went to the nearby jail and demanded the release of the photographer. The fighting between Christians and Muslims resumed and Palestinian Authority police fired into the air to stop them.

Later, the Bethlehem district governor imposed a curfew on Bet Sahour.

The PA sent police units from Bethlehem and Ramallah to quell the violence. Over the next day, most shops in Bet Sahour were closed in protest. The streets were littered with stones used during the riot.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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