MINYA, Egypt (Reuters) - Two Egyptian policemen were shot dead on Tuesday as they stood guard at a Coptic Christian church in a city south of Cairo, witnesses and a local security source said.
The policemen were killed instantly after being shot by masked men in Minya, the source and the witnesses said. The website of Egypt's state newspaper Al-Ahram also reported the two deaths.
Egypt's Coptic Christmas falls on Wednesday this year and security is typically tightened at churches ahead of the holiday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif was quoted by Al-Ahram as saying Tuesday's attack on the policemen was not sectarian. "(It) has nothing to do with any of the holidays of our Coptic brothers, it is instead aimed at the security forces, to try to undermine their resolve."
The country's Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million, have largely coexisted peacefully with majority Sunni Muslims for centuries.
But following the army's ouster of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, a number of churches and Christian properties were burned and destroyed in the impoverished south that is home to many Christians.
The Brotherhood said at the time it had nothing to do with attacks on Christians and accused the army of cynically using the minority population to justify a fierce security crackdown.
The most populous Arab nation faces a jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since Mursi's overthrow. A group of Sinai-based militants has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that controls parts of Iraq and Syria.
Four years of political turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak has battered Egypt's economy and frightened off tourists and investors.
(Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Michael Perry and Dominic Evans)