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Palestine bishop tells Christians after Hamas victory: Don’t panic

Holy Land Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan has urged Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip not to panic over the militant Islamic group Hamas’ victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Palestinian Christians have been unsettled by the sweeping victory by Hamas, which has a charter calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in all of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"We ask the Palestinian people, especially Palestinian Christians, not to panic and arrive at hasty conclusions but to persevere and remain steadfast in this land," Bishop Munib Younan said in a statement on 30 January.

Hamas won a decisive majority in last week’s Palestinian legislative elections. The group, which has political and militant wings, will now take a large role in governing Palestinians, but the makeup of the new government has not been made clear.

"Now more than ever we need to continue to be an active, integral part of the people and to continue as Christian witnesses for justice, instruments of peace and ministers of reconciliation," said the Palestinian-born Lutheran church leader.

Bishop Younan’s comments indicated concern that the Hamas victory could speed up Christian immigration from the Holy Land where they are becoming an increasingly small minority.

Today, there are about 50 000 Christians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem. They make up less than 2 per cent of the Palestinian population.

Bishop Younan said once Palestinians recovered from the "shock" of Hamas’ victory they should evaluate why the militant Islamic group won a landslide victory at the polls with 77 per cent of voters casting their ballots.

He attributed Hamas’ victory to Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation, corruption in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ extensive charity network and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last September.

"This is a moment of challenge and possibility in the midst of unexpected change," Bishop Younan said.

He noted the Lutheran church would "watch, pray and work unceasingly and prophetically so that the policies implemented for the Palestinian people will be guided by justice, equality and freedom".

(c) Ecumenical News International