GAZA CITY - The recent reversion of two Christians to Islam is straining religious tension in Israel-blockaded Gaza Strip.
"We are increasingly worried about our sons and daughters, Fatin Ayyad, the aunt of Hiba Daoud, who reverted to Islam, told Reuters.
If those people joined Islam of their own will it would not have been a problem. But they were under pressure.
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Hiba is one of two Christians - a man and a woman - who have recently embraced Islam.
But Christians say that the two converted under distress, claiming that they were kidnapped by Islamist proselytizers and forced to embrace Islam, a claim dismissed by Hamas officials.
Hundreds of Christians have staged protests in Gaza's main church in the past week, demanding the return of the two Christians.
But the two newly-reverted Muslims have denied that they have been forced to revert to Islam.
The 24-year-old man told reporters he had become Muslim of his own free will and wanted to go back to his family, should they accept him as a Muslim. A day later, he returned home.
The woman, who brought her three daughters along with her, also said in a video clip made by a pro-Hamas news website that she reverts to Islam with her own free will.
"We are living with a (Muslim) family, they bring us all we need, they teach us how to pray and everything," said Hiba, wearing a full Muslim dress and a scarf covering her hair.
"I love you all, I hope no one feels upset with me, it was my decision which I made months ago."
Christians are estimated at 2,500 in the Gaza Strip.
They almost work in almost all professions. Many are doctors and teachers, and some own jewelry stores.
Their number dropped to 2,500 from 3,000 before 2007, mostly owing to economic reasons in the enclave, blockaded by Israel.
There are many more Christians among Palestinians of the West Bank, about 52,000 out of a population of 2.5 million, where they have their own Christian schools.
Some of the Palestinian Christians living among Gaza's 1.7 million Muslims are educated in Hamas government schools, some in secular schools run by the United Nations agency UNRWA and some in their own schools. There is no overt discrimination.
Christians say that the new reversions have strained relations with the Muslim majority in Gaza.
"There is a big split in relations now," said Ayyad.
"Some groups want to spread division between Muslims and Christians."
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios, who has served the Christian community in Gaza for 12 years, demanded that the Hamas administration help return the woman and her daughters to her home in order to calm tensions.
"We do not want any problem. We want peace and harmony to prevail among us," Alexios told Reuters at the church, located next door to a mosque in downtown Gaza City.
"We are not strangers. Christians did not come from the outside.
Christians are part of the Palestinian body and not a strange body," he said at a protest held after the Sunday prayer sermon attended by around 70 worshippers.
But Muslim officials have denied accusations of having the two Christians forced to embrace Islam.
Salem Salama, the chairman of the Palestine Scholars Association, said 11 Christians, including non-Palestinians, had come to his office in the past five months to become Muslim.
"No one is forced to change his religion, he said.This is the instruction of our holy book Qur'an.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net