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Deadly bomb blasts hit churches in Egypt

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Two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt have been targeted in separate bombings, the deadliest to hit the community in months. Islamist extremists have increased attacks on Christians in recent months.

Two separate bombings targeting Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Sunday left at least two dozen people dead and many more wounded in the deadliest attacks to strike the community in months.

An explosion ripped through a Coptic Christian church in the city of Tanta north of Cairo as worshippers were celebrating Palm Sunday, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 60. Footage from CBC TV from inside the Mar Girgis (St Georges) Coptic Church showed dead bodies covered with papers.

"Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up," provincial governor Ahmad Deif said of the attack in Tanta. Hours later, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in front of the Saint Marks Church in the coastal city of Alexandria, killing at least six people and injuring another 66, state media reported. The blast occurred after Coptic Pope Tawadros II attended mass there.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but the so-called "Islamic State" has upped attacks on the Coptic community in recent months. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypts population.

Coming a week before Easter, Palm Sunday marks the triumphant entrance of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem.

Christians, Muslims condemn attacks Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypts Al-Azhar, considered the highest Sunni Islamic center of learning, condemned the attack, as a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents." Pope Francis, who has entered discussions with al-Azhar to counter extremism, also condemned the attack and offered his condolences. Francis asked God "to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons."

Previous attacks In December, 29 worshippers at Cairos largest Coptic cathedral were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group. A number of jihadist-linked attacks and threats against Christians in Sinai have also forced hundreds to flee. Egypts army is fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against an IS affiliate in Sinai. Jihadists have carried out scores of attacks against police and army positions.

Islamists have accused Christians of supporting the military and there have been attacks on dozens of churches and Christian properties. Inter-communal relations between Christians and Muslims can sometimes be tense in conservative areas.

Papal visit Sundays attack comes as Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt later this month to show solidarity with the countrys embattled Christian community. The pontiff will also visit Saint Marks Coptic Orthodox Cathedral which is the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II. cw/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)
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