Israel, Palestinians condemn attack on Egypt Christians as toll rises to 28
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Israel, Palestinians condemn attack on Egypt Christians as toll rises to 28

Israel calls for cooperation in fighting terror, sends condolences; terror group Hamas also slams shooting assault on Coptic pilgrims

Illustrative: A screen capture taken from Egypt's state-run Nile News TV shows the remains of the bus that was attacked while carrying Coptic Christians in Minya province on May 26, 2017. (AFP/Nile News)
Illustrative: A screen capture taken from Egypt's state-run Nile News TV shows the remains of the bus that was attacked while carrying Coptic Christians in Minya province on May 26, 2017. (AFP/Nile News)

A Friday morning attack on a convoy of pilgrims in Egypt that killed at least 28 people, many of them children, drew wide-spread condemnation in the region — from Israel to Hamas.

Egyptian security and medical officials said the death toll in the shooting by masked gunmen of a bus carrying Christians on their way to a remote desert monastery has risen to 28.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel “strongly condemns the painful terror attack in Egypt and sends the condolences of the Israeli people to [Egyptian] President [Abdel-Fattah] Sissi and to the Egyptian people,” said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There is no difference between terrorism harming Egypt and terrorism harming other countries. Terror will be beaten more quickly if all countries work against it together,” the statement said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also issued a statement condemning the attack, as did the Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum in a statement Friday called the shooting “an ugly crime,” of which “the enemies of Egypt” are the only beneficiaries.

Hamas has been seeking to improve relations with neighboring Egypt.

The Friday assault happened while the bus was traveling on the road to Saint Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Maghagha, in the Minya governorate, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) south of Cairo, security officials said.

The officials cited witnesses as saying they saw between eight and 10 attackers, dressed in military uniforms and wearing masks. The victims were traveling from the nearby province of Bani Suief to visit the monastery.

Khaled Mogahed, the Health Ministry spokesman, said that the death toll reached 26 but feared it could rise further. According to Copts United news portal, only three children survived the attack.

Arab TV stations showed images of a damaged bus along a roadside, many of its windows shattered. Ambulances were parked around it as bodies lay on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets.

Though no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, it had all the hallmarks of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate.

Egyptian authorities have been fighting IS-linked militants who have waged an insurgency, mainly focused in the volatile north of the Sinai Peninsula though attacks have taken place also on the mainland. Egypt’s Coptic Christians have emerged as a top target of IS.

Friday’s attack is the third against Christians in Egypt in six months.

Coptic priests stand near the coffins of victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark's church in Alexandria the previous day during a funeral procession at the Monastery of Marmina in the city of Borg El-Arab, east of the northern port city on April 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Coptic priests stand near the coffins of victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria the previous day during a funeral procession at the Monastery of Marmina in the city of Borg El-Arab, east of the northern port city on April 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

In April, twin suicide bombings struck two churches on Palm Sunday, and in December, a suicide bombing targeted a Cairo church. The attacks left over 75 dead and scores wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility and vowed more attacks.

Late last month, Pope Francis visited Egypt, in part to show his support for Christians of this Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.

During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, located in close proximity to the St. Mark’s cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Following the pope’s visit, IS vowed to escalate the attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and Western embassies, saying they are targets for the group’s followers.

Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country’s majority Muslim population.

Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind the country’s general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in 2013 when he ousted Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country’s south, traditionally Egypt’s Christian heartland.

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