Palestinian Authority (PA) police of the Fatah party have seized the six-story Gaza Baptist Church building as a watch point against militants supporting the governing Hamas movement.
Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, wrote in a February 3 prayer SOS that late on February 2, PA police officers demanded the building key from the church?s lone guard. The guard, who had no key, informed church leaders, who refused to give the key to police. Police then broke into the building, taking up positions on the sixth floor. The guard called a church leader, who informed Massad.
Because of the battles raging on Gaza?s streets, Massad has been unable to leave his house to check on the building, he told Open Doors. Brother Andrew spoke at the new building?s dedication in November 2006. The building houses the church?s sanctuary, Gaza?s only Christian library, a guest hostel, and a mammogram clinic.
Massad described the crisis as ?the worst situation we ever went through in Gaza,? more serious even than Israeli invasions.
Gaza fighting pits forces controlled by the secular Fatah party, including the police, against the majority Islamic party Hamas. Should PA police fire at Hamas militants from the commandeered church, reprisal fire could severely damage the building as has happened before, the pastor said.
A fresh cease-fire was declared Sunday evening, but there was no indication it would be any more successful than previous truces in recent weeks of factional fighting, reported the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday. Gaza Baptist Church leader Khader Khoury noted that nine cease-fire attempts have occurred in five days.
In May 2006, police broke into the church, turning its roof into a sniper nest against Hamas. Damage included at least a dozen shattered windows.
In addition, a stray bullet struck a church library worker in the back. Weeks later the PA police sought to retake the building. Massad, however, stood with other leaders from the church in the church doorway, refusing to yield.
This time, however, ?nobody can say no,? Massad said.
In the church?s former location, a rented house across from the Palestinian Parliament, Israeli attacks on nearby PA targets caved its ceiling several times. One time years ago fighting near Parliament forced cancellation of Sunday services.
Even if police abandon the church building, gunfire flies on the streets as rival factions vie for control. Frightened Gazans remain in their homes. Massad told Open Doors Sunday morning that early worship had been cancelled because Gaza is ?not stable.?
Gaza had a ?noisy morning? Sunday. ?Some shooting here and there,? Massad said.
?It?s a very dangerous situation. It?s in God?s hands,? he said. ?Nothing I can do, nothing anybody else can do can help the situation. He?s the one who protects.?
The Gaza Strip?s border is closed, locking 1.4 million Palestinians in a coastal territory just 27 miles long and 5 miles deep. Food and other basics are running short, reported AP on Sunday.
Meanwhile, prominent Gazan evangelical leader Rana Khoury?s fianc?, Hani, arrived in Cairo today with plans to cross the border at the Rafah crossing. His wedding, which was set for February 16 in Gaza, has now been moved up to February 11. Rafah crossing was closed by Israel two weeks ago and did not open today, but Hani was told that it could open tomorrow.
?But God knows,? Massad said. ?This is life here.?
?I believe in the power of prayer,? he said. He listed these prayer requests:
That God will protect Gaza?s believers.
That believers will experience the power of God?s peace.
That God will give Massad strength and wisdom to minister.
That there will be no gunfire around the church building and that God will protect this building for His glory.
That Gaza?s leaders will receive wisdom to stop this evil fighting.
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