(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Attack on Christian library in Gaza prompts heightened security fears

The YMCA library after it was blown up.
YMCA Gaza

A recent attack on a Christian library in the Gaza Strip has caused concern among civil society organisations that such violence might escalate unless police arrest the perpetrators.

There is talk of "security chaos" in the Strip, and apprehension about a further decline in personal security.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes condemned the attack while speaking to reporters during his recent trip to the region, and noted that he had held positive talks with civil society groups during his visit.

The attack on the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) library in the early hours of 15 February caused severe damage to the building and to most of its 10,000 books - used mainly by students in high schools and universities. It was seen as an invaluable and unique education resource in Gaza.

"The explosion blew up the whole library. We have been working for two days to salvage what we can from the wreckage before the rains come," Issa Saba from the YMCA told IRIN.

With current restrictions on imports into the enclave, it would be hard to replace the library quickly, though Saba said it was still too early to make plans for the future.

''This is not easy for us. We've been working in Gaza for 55 years, and we never expected something like this.''

A second explosive found in the building’s main auditorium was dismantled by police.

"I hope the people behind it won't get away with it, but it seems it will be like the previous cases" when no one was caught, said Khalil Shahin, from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.

Residents in Gaza noted that a main police station is just 200 metres from the YMCA. "How did the militants manage to blow it up and get away, with all the police right nearby?" asked one man. The police have so far declined comment.

Other incidents

There have been other such attacks in Gaza in recent months - on the American School, social and cultural clubs, and sports centres. Many blame militant Islamic splinter groups.

Some observers have noted that the library belonged to a Christian institution, and that in October a Christian bookseller was killed after his bookshop had been bombed six months earlier. There are about 3,000 Christians among Gaza's mostly Muslim 1.5 million residents.

In the vast majority, if not all, of these cases no one was caught - whether by the regular Palestinian Authority security forces, or, since the June 2007 takeover, by Hamas' police force in Gaza.

"This is not easy for us. We've been working in Gaza for 55 years, and we never expected something like this," said Saba, but added that the group had already returned work.

shg/ar/cb

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