A senior Hamas leader is suspected of torturing and killing a prominent Palestinian Christian, new reports revealed.
The central Gaza chief of Hamas' military wing, Ashraf Abu Layla, is accused of murdering the manager of the Gaza Strip's only Christian bookstore.
Bookstore manager Rami Ayyad's body was found last month riddled with bullets and displaying visible signs of torture.
"The most disappointing aspect of this discovery is that not only is this a Hamas person who committed this crime, apparently, but also that despite the assurances right after the murder that they had nothing to do with it, they haven't distanced themselves from him and in fact have sent him on a pilgrimage to Mecca," said Open Doors USA president Carl Moeller to Mission Network News.
Hamas leaders have previously promised to provide protection to the strip's small Christian community.
Following Ayyad's murder, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, in a statement, condemned the killing and said Hamas "would not allow anyone to sabotage" Muslim-Christian relations.
Hamas also released a statement, calling Ayyad's death a "murderous crime" and claiming that Muslim-Christian relations "are very strong and will not be affected by such crimes committed by criminal elements."
Meanwhile, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said it had launched an investigation and promised that the crime "will not pass unpunished."
Prior to Ayyad's death, Islamic groups in Gaza had for months accused the bookstore manager of engaging in missionary activities and sent him multiple death threats. The Christian bookstore, owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was also firebombed in April.
Ibrahim Ayyad, brother of Rami, estimates that up to 70 percent of the Christians in Gaza would leave when given the opportunity, according to MNN. There are about 3,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of over 1 million.
Ayyad left behind a pregnant wife and two young children.