Coptic Orthodox Christians in Al-Kosheh, Egypt, celebrated Christmas in a nearly empty church on January 6. The main church building in this southern village with a Christian majority, 250 miles south of Cairo, was draped in black. Villagers were grieving the loss of 20 Christians and one Muslim who all died in a shootout on Sunday, January 2. The shootout began with a conflict between a Christian trader and his Muslim customer. Friends of both individuals joined in along religious lines. Fighting and looting began, but nobody had been killed before Sunday.

Eyewitnesses say the police intervened on Friday and stopped the fighting. The skirmishes broke out again on Saturday and again police stopped the fighting.

Christians went to the village church on Sunday for a funeral. False rumors spread that the person was killed by a Muslim. When church bells rang at 10:30 a.m., shooting from surrounding rooftops erupted from both Muslims and Christians. One Christian went into the church tower and began shooting.

Father Gabriel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Al-Kosheh says the barrage of gunfire lasted three hours. In the end, 20 Christians, including children, women, and teenagers, were dead. One person later died in a hospital.

Pope Shenouda, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, sent Bishop Marcos and Bishop Serabamun from Cairo to Al-Kosheh to investigate the matter only hours after the attack. They presented a report to Pope Shenouda, Usama el-Baz (President Hosni Mubarak's adviser for Political Affairs), and General Salah Salama, the head of Egypt's Central Security Agency.

Based on his investigation, Bishop Marcos blames the incident on the poisoned atmosphere between Muslims and Christians in Al-Kosheh. "How else can one explain ...

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