CAIRO (AP) — Another Egyptian Coptic Christian died Thursday of injuries sustained during clashes, raising the death toll from sectarian violence that began last weekend to eight, an Egyptian security official said.
Attackers doused Saber Helal, 26, with gasoline and set him on fire during street battles between Muslims and Christians that took place almost a week ago. The fighting in Khosoos, a town north of Cairo, left another five dead — including four Christians.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
More violence broke out Sunday at Cairo's main Coptic Cathedral after funerals for the Christian victims. An angry mob of Muslims threw firebombs and rocks at the church, leaving two people dead, one of them a Christian, in the worst sectarian violence Egypt has seen since last year.
Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's estimated 84 million people. They have long complained of discrimination by the state and by some among the majority Muslims. Clashes break out occasionally with Muslims over the building of churches or because of inter-religious love affairs.
Over the two years since Egypt's uprising against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the community has grown more concerned about its future as Islamist political forces, long repressed under the previous autocratic regime, grew more assertive. Attacks against Christians have grown bolder and more frequent, particularly in poorer and rural areas.
The latest bout of sectarian violence has been the worst since President Mohammed Morsi was elected in June 2012.
Also on Sunday, a traditional reconciliation meeting was held in Khosoos between local religious figures from both sides. The session was also attended by security officials and one of the president's aides, Emad Abdel-Ghaffour.
"God is love, whoever loves God loves his brother in humanity," the priest of the Khosoos church, Sourial Younan, said in the televised session.
Clashes and disputes between Christians and Muslims are usually addressed through such reconciliation gatherings, mediated by security and religious leaders. Rights group say the informal sessions preclude criminal prosecution for crimes and contribute to a climate of impunity that permits such assaults.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch appealed to Morsi's government to break the "cycle of impunity" in sectarian violence, which it said is "rarely properly investigated and punished."
Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at the group, said Morsi "needs to acknowledge the deep and longstanding problem of sectarian violence in Egypt and take decisive steps to address it before it escalates further."
"For years people have been getting away with sectarian murder and he should break that cycle of impunity," he added.