Coptic bishop thanks Muslims who protected Christians in Egypt

(Photo: Reuters / Asmaa Waguih)A Coptic Christian priest estimates the damage near the gate inside Cairo's main Coptic cathedral after Sunday's clashes with Muslims in Cairo, April 8, 2013. After days of fighting at the cathedral and a town outside Cairo killing eight - the worst sectarian strife since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was elected in June - many Copts now question whether they have a future in Egypt. Picture taken April 8, 2013.

A senior Coptic bishop has thanked Muslims for attempting to protect Christians in the recent sectarian violence around the Egyptian village of Al-Khosous.

H.G. Moussa, Bishop of Youth Affairs for the Coptic Orthodox Church, in a press release  Thursday thanked members in the community for standing up for their Christian neighbors.

"The loving Muslims who protected Christians and the church during the deadly clashes in Al-Khosous highlighted the mistakes of the fanatics and showed the true meaning of religion and love," Bishop Moussa said.

"Our only consolation is that the victims gave their lives as a testimony to God and their pure souls ascended to heaven."

The violence occurred over the weekend when four Christians and one Muslim died in armed conflict in the small area just outside of Cairo.

The fighting started after Christian teenagers allegedly smeared offensive images on the walls of the Al-Azhar institute within the town.

Reuters reported that angry crowds smashed shops belonging to Christians. A Coptic day care center and several other Christian trading stores were burned during the chaos.

An apartment inhabited by Muslims was also burned.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's office condemned the actions in a statement.

"The presidency ... totally rejects any attempt against the unity and cohesiveness of Egyptian society and will decisively confront any attempt to spark sectarian strife among Egyptian people, Muslim and Christian," the statement read.

Since the ousting of President Honsi Mubarak in February 2011, Christian communities have complained about attacks by Islamist extremists on several churches.

Other official restrictions have worsened relations between the religious communities.

According to official releases, the police detained 15 people during the recent conflict.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, along with other bishops, announced on Thursday that they are accepting condolences from public figures at the papal headquarters in Abbasiya.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says Egyptian authorities should bring to justice those responsible for the sectarian violence that left five Christians and one Muslim dead on April 5.

It said the authorities should also investigate police failure to intervene effectively to prevent an escalation of violence outside the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo on April 7, after a funeral service for the Christians killed at Khosus.

HR said clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians, Egypt's largest religious minority, are rarely properly investigated and punished.

'President Mohamed Morsy needs to acknowledge the deep and longstanding problem of sectarian violence in Egypt and take decisive steps to address it before it escalates further," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"For years people have been getting away with sectarian murder and he should break that cycle of impunity. Then he should reform laws that discriminate against Christians' right to worship."

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