An estimated 3,000 Coptic Christians live in Al-Azeeb, and the community recently received a permit from the government to build a church as they did not have one and had to commute to churches elsewhere to worship.

Extremist members of the Muslim community from Al-Azeeb and nearby villages attacked the site as workers were digging the ground to lay foundations. The attackers clashed with police, who were deployed quickly to contain the situation, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails which set fire to several houses and livestock belonging to Christians.

A local source said that Christians in the village are now fearful to go outside.  Local police and security forces are continuing to search for the perpetrators.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is saddened by this latest attack in a region that has long been prone to sectarian outbreaks. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with those affected and with the Christian community in Egypt in general as Christmas approaches. The torching of Coptic homes and properties highlights once again the urgent need for the Egyptian authorities to enact the law regulating the construction and renovation of houses of worship in a manner that guarantees the right of Christians to worship in community with others. We call on the Egyptian authorities to hold those responsible for this attack accountable, and to refrain from resorting to reconciliation meetings as a replacement for the rule of law, as they impose ad-hoc, unjust and often un-constitutional conditions on the victims of sectarian violence and perpetuate impunity for the perpetrators.” — CSW