Egypt Is Failing to Protect Christians From Being 'Hunted Down and Murdered,' Human Rights Group Says

(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt, February 24, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)Christian families who left from Al-Arish city North Sinai's Governorate capital after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, eat lunch after arriving at the Saint Church in Ismailia, northeast of Cairo, Egypt, February 27, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)A Christian woman who left Al-Arish city, North Sinai's Governorate capital, with her family after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants, rests at a youth guest house in Ismailia, northeast of Cairo, Egypt, February 27, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)A Christian woman who left with her family from Al-Arish city North Sinai's Governorate capital after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, walks inside the Saint Church in Ismailia, northeast of Cairo, Egypt, February 27, 2017.
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Authorities in Egypt must offer "urgent protection" to Coptic Christians in North Sinai and provide essential services and accommodation to hundreds who are being forced to flee their homes after seven Christians were killed in a series of attacks, the human rights group Amnesty International has said.

Local church officials in North Sinai have said the attacks have forced at least 100 families and 200 students to flee due to the attacks.

"This terrifying wave of attacks has seen Coptic Christians in North Sinai hunted down and murdered by armed groups. No one should face discrimination — let alone violent and deadly attacks — because of their religious beliefs," said Najia Bounaim, deputy director for campaigns at the group's regional office in Tunis.

"The Egyptian authorities have consistently failed to protect Coptic residents of North Sinai from a longstanding pattern of violent attacks, they must not let them down further now. The government has a clear duty to ensure safe access to housing, food, water and medical and other essential services to all those who have been forced to leave their homes due to violence and persecution," Bounaim added.

Bounaim said the government must also "end the prevailing impunity" for attacks against Christians elsewhere around the country and "end its reliance on customary reconciliation deals which further fuel a cycle of violence against Christian communities."

Last week, Kamel Youssef, a plumber, was shot to death in front of his wife and children in their home in el-Arish, the province's capital. It was the seventh killing since Jan. 30.

Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, recently released a video threatening Christians in the country. IS is also believed to be behind the bombing of a chapel adjoining Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope, in December. At least 28 people were killed.

Egypt's IS affiliate is based in the Sinai Peninsula.

"Oh crusaders in Egypt, this attack that struck you in your temple is just the first with many more to come, God willing," said a masked man in the video. The group claimed the same man blew himself up in the chapel.

Also last week, a 65-year-old Coptic Christian man, Saad Hana, was shot in the head while his son, 45-year-old Medhat, was burned alive in el-Arish.

In another attack on Jan. 30, Coptic Christian trader Wael Youssed Meland was shot and killed by masked men in his grocery shop in el-Arish, while on Feb. 12, a Coptic veterinarian named Bahgat William Zkhar was shot in his car just south of the city.

Two other Coptic Christians, Adel Shawky and Gamal Tawfiq Gares, were also shot and killed by masked assailants.

Since 2013, Sinai-based armed groups have kidnapped a number of Christians for ransom, in some cases killing them, Amnesty noted, adding that those displaced, including many children and elderly people, are sheltering in overcrowded church and government buildings, or with host families in Ismailia who opened up their homes to the displaced. The group said they desperately need long-term accommodation and access to essential services.

"The Egyptian authorities must ensure that those who have fled are resettled in secure housing, have adequate access to basic necessities and are granted opportunities to pursue education and employment," said Bounaim.

Copts make up only 10 percent of the nation's 92 million population, and have often been victims of militants who have vandalized churches, Christian bookshops, orphanages and other buildings.