Middle East Christians mark Christmas amid messages of peace, support

Jan. 7, 2014 at 1:55 PM
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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- World leaders and religious figures offered messages of peace and support as Middle Eastern Christian faiths celebrated Christmas Tuesday.

Speaking at Christmas Eve festivities of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said "we are determined to achieve peace with Israel," the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported Tuesday.

He expressed hope "if we reach peace with Israel, it will spread to include the Arab and Islamic worlds, and that the Israelis will be part of that peace."

"We hope that the American efforts will bear fruit in order to live in peace and security with the Israelis," Abbas added.

Egyptian groups offered message of support to Coptic Orthodox Christians marking Christmas, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Congratulating Copts on their religious festivities is forbidden by Islam, said Yasser Borhany, the vice president of a Salafi missionary group. "But this does not mean that we would criticize anyone who would do it," he added.

At the same time, Borhany said his group was willing to set up committees to protect Christian churches "because it is a national duty. Copts have the right to practice their rituals freely."

In a message noting Coptic festivities, Brothers Without Violence vowed to secure all churches in Egypt against attacks by terrorist groups attempting to incite conflict in the country. Brothers Without Violence is a movement of dissident Muslim Brotherhood youths.

In a statement from the White House, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said they wished Coptic Christians "the blessings of the season and join them in offering prayers for peace in the year ahead."

"During this season, we reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work for the protection of Christians and other people of faith in Egypt and around the world," they continued. "The freedom to practice our faiths is critical to stable, pluralistic, and thriving societies, and the United States will continue to be vigilant in its work to protect that freedom."

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