• LEBANON \ Feb 14, 2007
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    Lebanese, Palestinian Baptists ask for prayer amid continuing strife
Lebanese, Palestinian Baptists ask for prayer amid continuing strife "It is with much apprehension that we've been watching this current week, particularly since a pro-government rally is scheduled for tomorrow, Feb. 14th, close to where the opposition supporters have been holding a sit-in," Costa noted.

February 14 marks the two-year anniversary of the assassination of a Lebanese political leader that led to political upheaval in the divided nation. The most recent conflicts are outgrowths of a weeks-old protest that supporters of Hezbollah, an extremist Shiite Muslim political party in Lebanon, and its allies have waged against the Sunni-led government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The unrest followed a devastating bombing campaign by Israeli fighter jets and naval vessels in July and August of 2006 mainly aimed at Hezbollah-friendly areas of the country.

In late January, street fighting erupted near the Beirut Baptist School's campus. Costa's group runs it and the nearby Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Please pray for wisdom for the leaders of the different political groups that they may restrain their followers and avoid a repetition of the clashes that took place last January," Costa wrote.

Meanwhile, members of a Baptist church in Gaza City have been able to reclaim their building amidst a cease-fire in fighting between rival Palestinian factions.

Open Doors, a United States-based group that tracks persecution of Christians around the globe, reported Feb. 13 that Palestinian Authority police officers had relinquished control of the six-story Gaza Baptist Church building, which they had seized Feb. 2.

Hanna Massad, the church's pastor, said authorities view the church building as a vital position because of its location adjacent to Gaza City's main police station.

According to the Open Doors statement, Massad said the church had sustained some minor damage during the seizure, affecting the front door and some windows.

The police are controlled by the relatively moderate Fatah political party, which has struggled with the Islamist Hamas party since Palestinian parliamentary elections put Hamas into power last year. In December, the conflict erupted into open violence in the densely populated Gaza Strip. Since then, nearly 100 Palestinians have died in the fighting.

A breakthrough in ongoing talks between Hamas and Fatah on Feb. 9 caused the police to leave the church building. Massad said the congregation held its regular Sunday services Feb. 11, after canceling them the previous Sunday.

However, Massad added, the cease-fire remains fragile. "We are afraid they will come back if things get bad," he said. "I think people feel much better, but they're still watching, waiting."