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Sissi promises help to Copts fleeing Sinai

March 1, 2017

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has said those fleeing Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula will receive support. More than 100 families have left the area in the past few days after seven killings.

Ägypten Hunderte Kopten von der ägyptischen Sinai-Halbinsel in die Stadt Ismailia am Suezkanal geflohen
Image: Getty Imgaes/AFP/Stringer

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was cited by the "Egypt Independent" newspaper and Coptic Christian websites as ordering the government to provide immediate shelter to those who have left the peninsula in recent days.

He said the country's Coptic Christian minority was being "targeted as part of a cowardly plot," after seven Christians were killed in suspected jihadi attacks in less than a month.

A total of 450 people who have fled North Sinai, with many families receiving assistance from the local church and other faith communities in the northeastern city of Ismailia, the news agency EFE reported.

Shelter offered

Church volunteers arranged for the displaced families to be taken to shelters and camp in the province, and expect more families to arrive in the next day or two.

Germany's ambassador to Egypt, Julis Georg Luy, described the outflow as a "terrorist attack," the newspaper "Daily News Egypt" reported. He spoke ahead of a visit to Cairo by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.

The uptick in violence coincided last week with the release of video by an "Islamic State" (IS) group affiliate calling for attacks on Egypt's Copts.

IS has been waging an insurgency in Sinai since the overthrow of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Ägypten Hunderte Kopten von der ägyptischen Sinai-Halbinsel in die Stadt Ismailia am Suezkanal geflohen
Many Copt families have taken refuge in an Evangelical Church in the city of Ismailiya since fleeing SinaiImage: Getty Imgaes/AFP/Stringer

Sissi on the defense

In parliament on Tuesday, el-Sissi defended the nation's fight back against IS militants amid complaints that Copts aren't given sufficient protection from security forces in the restive region.

"[The attacks aim to] destabilize the fabric of Egypt... to give the impression that one group isn't protected as it should be," el-Sissi said in remarks broadcast on television late on Tuesday.

He noted that "some accuse the state of not helping them," warning that the country was "beginning to disunite."

El-Sissi said Egypt was bearing a "huge cost" in battling IS, and paid tribute to army and police "martyrs" killed in north Sinai.

Army 'doing its best'

The president, a former army chief, said security services were doing their utmost to protect civilians in the region.

Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 90-million, say they are sidelined in both the education system and state institutions.

Jihadis and Islamists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

In December, an IS militant detonated an explosive vest in a Coptic church in Cairo, killing 29 people.

Germany's growing Coptic Church

mm/sms (AFP, EFE)