File photo of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered on Saturday the government to take all necessary measures to provide assistance to Coptic Christians who escaped their homes in North Sinai to Ismailia in recent days out of fear of attacks by militants, according to a presidency statement as reported by MENA state news agency.
In a cabinet meeting,the president stressed the importance of countering attempts to “undermine security and stability in Egypt,” saying the displaced families, who have been “received and housed until terrorist elements are dealt with.”
In the past few days, churches in Ismailia have received dozens of Coptic families who have fled Arish, in the light of a number of killings of Christians linked to militants.
At least seven Christians have been killed in the last month in North Sinai, with several of the killings claimed by Islamic State-affiliated militants.
Last week, the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a church in Cairo in December, and called on its supporters to attack Christians across the country. Several days after the video was released, three Christians were murdered in Arish.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail ordered on Saturday the creation of an operation room to coordinate the provision of services to fleeing families.
The premier said the operation room would coordinate with Ismailia, Qalioubia, Cairo and Assiut governorates, as well as the Coptic Orthodox and Anglican churches.
"The state is determined to continue its efforts to counter evil forces and extremism,” the prime minister said, sending his condolences to the victims’ families.
A cabinet statement added that the prime minister is coordinating provision of relief efforts with a number of ministers and officials as well as the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
Displaced families have been housed in youth ministry hostels in Ismailia as well as at the Anglican church, and basic medical services would be made available.
Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali visited Christian families staying at the International Youth Hostel in Ismailia, assuring the families that this is a temporary situation and that they will return to their homes within days.
Ismailia Governor Yassin Taher has said that the displaced families are welcome in the governorate, and that he has received many calls from the residents of Ismailia offering to host the displaced families.
The Anglican church in Ismailia has received almost 30 Christian families, comprising 150 individuals, church official Nabil Shukrallah Basta told Al-Ahram Arabic news website, adding that more Christian families are expected to arrive today.
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement on Friday condemning "the repeated terrorist attacks targeting Egyptian Christians in North Sinai."
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest murders of Christians in North Sinai.
In July 2016, Father Rafael Moussa of the Mar Girgis Church in El-Arish was also gunned down by Islamic State-affliated militants.
Christians are estimated to make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
The Egyptian army has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in North Sinai for several years.
Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, the Islamic State affliated group, has killed hundreds of security personnel, as well as a number of civilians they accuse of cooperating with authorities.
The army has killed hundreds of militants in turn, in intensified and comprehensive military campaigns in the governorate.