By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
RAFAH/CAIRO (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm returned to Egypt’s northern city of Rafah Wednesday, October 3, one week after suspected Islamic militants riding a motorcycle opened fire on a Christian-owned shop, injuring nobody, but prompting Coptic Christian families to flee the area local Christians said.
Ahead of the September 26 attack, militants distributed leaflets warning Christians to leave the North Sinai city near the border with Israel within 48 hours or face violence, Priest Youssef Sobhi told reporters.
He accused the provincial governor, who was recently appointed President Mohammed Morsi, of not doing enough to halt the violence despite recent talks with Christian representatives.
“I was shocked at the governor’s response…This is simply displacement by the government’s consent,” the priest said in published remarks.
Up to nine Coptic families reportedly fled the town following the threats and shootings.
Christians said some 23 Coptic families remain in the North Sinai city near Israel, because they own business and property in the area and cannot move easily.
However in reactions, Egypt’s presidency and prime minister pledged that security forces in North Sinai were working to return Coptic Christians to their homes.
“The Coptic families quit their homes pre-emptively but the governor of North Sinai has given orders to return them to their homes and this is being carried out now,” said Yasser Ali, presidential spokesman, in a statement.
Rights activists say the departure of the families is adds to concerns about religious tolerance and the rise of militancy after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi has broken his promise to ensure the protection of the Coptic community, suggested Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive at the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) advocacy group.
“There have now been two major incidents where Copts have been attacked” since Morsi came to power, Thomas said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
Christians are concerned that Islamists with possible links to terror group al Qaeda have gained influence in Sinai.
Analysts say Morsi’s efforts to impose central authority in the area are also complicated by the indigenous Bedouin population’s “ingrained hostility” to the government in Cairo.
Additionally, Israel has voiced concern about security in Sinai, where at least four cross-border attacks have taken place since Mubarak was toppled in February 2011, news reports said.
However Thomas stressed Egyptian authorities should at least try “to ensure safety and protection for the Coptic community in Rafah, and to bring a definitive end to all religion-related discrimination and violence in the country.”
Copts, as most Egyptian Christians are called, comprise some 10 percent of the country’s over 80-million mainly Muslim population, according to church estimates.