Unidentified burglars set fire to Gaza's first public library August 10, destroying more than half of the Gaza Baptist Society's 12,000 volumes collected since it opened in 1968.

At least 7,000 of the books in the Gaza Baptist Library were destroyed by the arson and another 2,000 were damaged, library director Isam Farah says. The books, mostly in Arabic, included a wide range of secular and religious topics.

The thieves also stole the library's computer, television set, and a videocassette recorder before setting the blaze. "The police believe that theft was the motivation for the attack," Gaza Baptist Society representative Paul Lawrence says.

"It will be years before we can get the books replaced," Lawrence says, noting the difficulty of procuring books in the tense Gaza Strip.

Farah says Minister of Culture Yasser Abd Rabo sent a letter "asking us to continue in our work in serving the people of Gaza, and not be stopped by this fire." An average of 1,800 visitors used the facilities each month.

During a previous theft and arson in 1991, about 3,000 books had been destroyed. "It has taken until now to build the collection back up from the books that were lost then," Lawrence says.

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