Coptic Christian homes have been attacked and families forced to flee from a village in Egypt after reports that Islam was insulted on Facebook.

But some Muslims in the Beni Suef governorate in Egypt tried to protect Copts from villagers angered over alleged "insults to Islam".

Christian Today reports that Ayman Youssef Tawfiq, from Kafr Darwish in Al-Fashn, denies he posted cartoons on Facebook that were insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Nevertheless, Coptic homes in his village have been stoned and attacked with Molotov cocktails. A car has been destroyed and several homes set on fire.

Reports say meetings were even held in the village in an attempt to resolve the crisis, but this merely led to Youssef and four of his relatives' families being driven out of town. After this, a further 10 Coptic homes were burned down.

The Coptic newspaper Al-Watani reported that among those who defended the Coptic homes from the attackers were a number of Muslim youths. Police also intervened promptly.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher on religion at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Daily News Egypt: "Ayman is an illiterate person who usually lives in Jordan who was accused of sharing the picture by locals at his village in Beni Suef when he returned. At first, a case was filed against him and the people in the village wanted to charge him with a fine. They later changed their minds and decided they wanted him to leave. Ayman has three brothers, each with a family, and elderly parents in their 70s and 80s living in the village. All of them were made to leave the village."

He said local officials had authorised the decision to drive the families out of the village.

"There were two meetings, one at a police station and the second in the Mayor's house, attended by local Christians and Muslims," he said.

The Mayor, Ahmed Maher, is reported to have told the families that the police could not guarantee their safety if they decided to stay.

Ibrahim continued: "The violations of people who express their religious opinions and the persecution of minorities is ongoing in Egypt. It increases when individuals are accused of insulting religion, as usually the trials in these cases are not fair.

"The charges for insulting religion are very vague and do not define which acts can be considered insulting or not. For instance if an imam said that all Christians are kuffar, would this be considered insulting? Anyone who openly calls for violence and hatred should be the only ones charged."