In the wake of the killing of six Copts throughout the last three weeks in the North Sinai town of al-Arish, and the repeated threats sent out to the Copts there by the jihadi groups in Sinai, a number of Coptic families have started an exodus from town.
Five Coptic families have left Arish to their hometown of Assiut, 350km south of Cairo. Among them is the family of the 45-year-old schoolteacher Gamal Tawfiq Girgis who was shot dead on 16 February in front of his wife.
Other families left to Cairo and Suez. The [extended] family of Saad Hakim Hanna, 65, and his son Medhat, 45, left to their hometown of Suez to bury their dead and to stay there. Saad Hanna was shot in the head on 21 February; his son Medhat was burned alive.
Seven families who belong originally to Arish but had to leave on account of the recent killings and threats headed to the town of Ismailiya on the Suez Canal. The Evangelical Church in Ismailiya received them, and offered them living quarters in church guest houses or in rented flats. Rev. Ezzat Saleeb told Watani that five more families are expected from Arish tomorrow, and that the number of families arriving from Arish during the next 72 hours will likely reach 20. He said the Cairo church of Qasr al-Dobara was sending aid and relief, since the families exiting Arish were having problems with swiftly moving their many belongings outside town owing to tight security regulations.
The police and military in North Sinai are fighting a bitter battle with Islamist terrorists barricaded in the nearby mountainous area. The security forces, scores of whom have been killed by the terrorists, concentrate their efforts on protecting the town and guarding all entrance points to it but, according to testimonies by the locals, the killers of the Copts may not be coming from outside town but are from among Islamists residing in Arish. It is feared if the battle moves into town it would lead to guerrilla warfare in the streets.
Analyst and writer Nabil Sharaf Eddin believes that the Jihaare using the Copts to target the Egyptian State. The Islamists are attempting to send the message that the secular State the Copts opted for cannot protect them, and are working to augment Coptic grievances hoping to turn the Copts against the State.
23 February 2017