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Coptic Orthodox Christmas was celebrated in the southern Egyptian village of Al-Koshh in the evening of January 6 in an empty church. The main church building in this village with a Christian majority, 323 miles south of Cairo, was draped in black. Villagers were grieving the loss of at least 21 Christians who had been brutally murdered in a shoot-out on Sunday, January 2. The death toll could still rise because some people are still missing and others are fighting for their lives in local hospitals.The killings were ignited by a conflict between a Christian trader and his Muslim customer in Al-Koshh. Friends of both parties joined in along religious lines and the conflict quickly developed into a communal conflict. There was fighting in the streets, shops were looted of the generally wealthier Christians in the village but, until Sunday, the material damage did not result in loss of lives. Eyewitnesses say the police intervened on Friday and stopped the fighting. The skirmishes, however, broke out again on Saturday and again the police intervened and stopped the fighting.Christians went to the village church on Sunday for a funeral of someone who had died a natural death. Rumors were spread that the person who was going to be buried was in fact killed by a Muslim, and when the church bells rang at around 10.30 a.m., shooting from the rooftops erupted; both Muslims and Christians were using fire arms. One Christian went up into and started firing from the church tower.Father Gabriel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Al-Koshh says the barrage of gunfire lasted some three hours. On one moment it was in one side of the village and at another moment it was at another location in the village. At the end of it 20 Christians, including ...

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January 2000

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