Five Fatah police officers remain stationed on Gaza Baptist Church's sixth floor as a tense truce has brought at least momentary peace to the tiny strip of coast teetering on the brink of civil war.
Tuesday afternoon, fights between the secular Fatah party and its rival, the militant Islamic party Hamas, flared on Gaza's side of the Egyptian border as Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh passed through Rafah Crossing en route to reconciliation talks.
The 10-minute gun battle not only threatened to shatter the latest cease-fire but also trapped Hani Fazah, a Christian Gazan doctor and fiancé of prominent Gazan evangelical Rana Khoury (see "Love in the Land of Enmity," July 2005) in a bus at Rafah as he tried for a second day to enter Gaza for their imminent wedding.
These are the latest of many violent events since January 2006, when Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, told Christianity Today that each round of Hamas-Fatah fighting ratchets up the bloodshed and lasts longer than the previous round. On January 28, Gaza Baptist's Awana club bus driver, Wasfi Khardish, 20, was walking down a street when a stray bullet pierced his heart, killing him instantly.
Late on February 2, Palestinian Authority (PA) police officers of Fatah demanded Gaza Baptist's building key from the church's lone guard. The guard, who had no key, informed church leaders, who refused to hand it over. Police then broke into the building, taking up positions on the sixth floor. The pastor was powerless to remove the police, who were using the rooftop as a watch post and sniper nest for fighting Hamas.
Police told Massad that taking over the church, which ...