France to treat 30 Iraqis wounded in Baghdad church assault

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About 30 Iraqi Christians wounded in a deadly Al-Qaeda hostage crisis at a Baghdad church are to be flown to France for treatment, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Saturday.

"A French plane will fly around 30 Iraqis wounded in the attack on the church in Baghdad to France by Monday for treatment," Kouchner told reporters in Beirut, where he was on a two-day official visit.

At least 46 hostages, including two priests, were killed on October 31 in a raid by Iraqi security forces to end the hostage-taking by Al-Qaeda gunmen in a Syriac Catholic cathedral during Sunday mass.

Al-Qaeda has declared Christians everywhere "legitimate targets" in the wake of the bloodbath at the Baghdad church.

Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.

Christians in Baghdad have now dwindled to around 150,000, a third of their former population in the capital. The 14 Chaldean churches still in use in the capital are half the number of seven years ago.

© 2010 AFP

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