ESSENTIAL READING >> TARGETING SYRIAN CHRISTIANS AND BLACK LIBYANS: THE “CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS” IS ON THE MARCH
Church In Homs
The message sent out by the military chief of the armed opposition has spread panic and lead to a Christian exodus
An exodus of Christians is taking place in Western Syria: the Christian population has fled the city of Qusayr, near Homs, following an ultimatum issued by the military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba.
This is what local sources told Vatican news agency Fides, pointing out that since the conflict broke out, only a thousand of the city’s ten thousand faithful, were left and they are now being forced to flee immediately. Some of the city’s mosques have issued the message again, announcing from the minarets: “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending Friday.” The ultimatum therefore expired on 8 June and spread fear among the Christian population which had started to regain hope as a result of the presence of the Jesuit Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, who stopped off in Qusayr for a week to “pray and fast in the name of peace, right in the midst of conflict.”
The reasons for this ultimatum remain a mystery. Some say it is necessary in order to protect faithful from further suffering; other sources reveal “a continuity in discrimination and selective repression.” Others still claim that Christians have openly expressed their loyalty to the state and this is why the opposition army is chasing them away. Now Christian families in Qusayr have begun their exodus as displaced persons, towards the surrounding valleys and rural areas. Some have taken refuge in parents’ and friends’ homes in Damascus. Very few families have courageously decided to stay behind in their birth city but who knows what fate will meet. Fides sources have reiterated that groups of Salafi Islamic extremists within the armed opposition consider Christians as “infidels”; they confiscate their belongings, carry out mass executions and are ready to declare a “denominational war”.
Syrian Islamist opposition casts out Christians
The Christian minority in Syria is facing a growing threat and thousands are being forced to flee their homes as they face harassment and discrimination from radial Islamist factions of the opposition.
At least 9,000 Christians from the western Syrian city of Qusayr were forced to seek refuge after an ultimatum from a local military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba, Fides news agency reports.
In the latest outburst of violence a Christian man was shot dead by a sniper in Qusayr, which neighbors the restive city of Homs.
There have been reports last week that some mosques in the city have announced from the minarets: “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, which expires this Friday.”
Two Catholic priests who fled Qusayr confirmed to the news agency that they heard the ultimatum “with their own ears” repeated from the minarets. “The situation is unsustainable in the area and exposed to total lawlessness,” Fides sources on the ground say. They also fear that the fate of Christians in Qusayr could soon affect the 10,000 believers who live in other villages in the area.
The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians. Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities.
Apart from religious rifts, the violence against the Christian community may also be fueled by the fact that they have openly expressed support to the regime. Bashar Assad, as well as his late father, Hafez Assad, guaranteed secular rule in Syria, protecting Christians from discrimination and guaranteeing their rights.
On Wednesday, an armed group broke into and desecrated the Greek-catholic church of St. Elias in Qusayr.
“It is the first time in the ongoing conflict that such an episode has occurred in which sacred symbols are deliberately hit,” a local source told Fides.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of the country’s population with most belonging to the denomination of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Agenzia Fides, 13 June 2012
A Greek Catholic Church desecrated in Qusayr: an alarm signal
Qusayr – A band of radical militiamen broke into the Greek-catholic church of St. Elias in Qusayr this morning, near the town of Homs, desecrating it. The militiamen forced the door, rang the bells in mockery, laughed at the sacred symbols of the Christian faith with the sole purpose of carrying out a demonstrative act and making a mockery of the Christian community. “It is the first time, in the ongoing conflict, that such an episode occurs, in which sacred symbols are deliberately hit,” notes with concern a local source of Fides.
In Qusayr the Christians who have chosen to remain are very few, mostly elderly people who were unwilling to abandon their homes. In fact, in the ultimatum launched by an armed faction (see Fides 9 and 12/6/2012), in past days, about a thousand Christians, who were still in town, have abandoned their homes, taking refuge in the surrounding countryside or relatives in other Syrian cities. Some eyewitnesses “saddened and frightened – told Fides about the break-in the church in Qusayr”. The act was condemned by Catholic priests and authorities who talk about the “worrying sign, which confirms the attempt of some armed gangs to unleash a sectarian war.”
Agenzia Fides, 12 June 2012
Christian killed in Qusayr, where two priests confirm the ultimatum to Christians
Qusayr (Agenzia Fides) – The Christian Maurice Bitar was killed in Qusayr, near the town of Homs where the Christian population – about a thousand people out of 10 thousand who lived there before the beginning of the violence – has been forced to flee after the ‘ultimatum launched by an armed faction in the opposition forces led by General Abdel Salam Harba (see Fides 09/06/2012). As anticipated by Fides, some Christians, after the warning, however, chose to remain in Qusayr, exposing themselves to considerable risks. Maurice Bitar was killed by a sniper, with three other men while he was out of the house to buy bread for his family. The Christian inhabitants of Qusayr, local sources of Fides report, suffer harassment such as no vehicular access on streets and the obligation to “give way” if they meet a Muslim, “as in the days of the Ottoman caliphate,” notes the source of Fides .
The armed opposition, in fact, as confirmed by numerous observers in Syria and abroad, is gradually radicalizing towards Sunni extremist ideology. There are numerous gangs and military groups that operate in a totally independent manner, outside the coordination of the Free Syrian Army. The ultimatum launched by the faction of Abdel Salam Harba, for example, was not ratified by other groups: in a statement sent to Fides, the coordination of the same Free Syrian Army, stationed at Qusayr, says it is “shocked by the news” and rejects the ultimatum, saying that it is not responsible and does not share it in any way. Two Catholic priests who fled in recent days from Qusayr, reached by Fides, confirm, however, that they heard “with their ears” of the ultimatum, repeated from the minarets of mosques, and left the city with many refugee families.
According to Fides sources, “the situation is unsustainable in the area and exposed to total lawlessness.” Christians face a harsh reality: they either join the opposition, enlisting their young ones, or are victims of harassment, discrimination, violence. The fate of Christians in Qusary, concludes the source, could soon touch the 10 thousand faithful who live in other villages in the area, such as Dmeineh, Rableh and Hamra. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/6/2012)
Agenzia Fides, 4 June 2012
“The desolation of Homs and the war of information “: the words of a greek-catholic Bishop
Damascus – “Peace in Syria could be saved if everyone told the truth. After a year of conflict, the reality on the ground is far from the picture that imposes disinformation in Western media”: says a testimony sent to Fides Agency by the French Bishop Philip Tournyol Clos, a greek-Catholic Melkite Archimandrite, who recently visited Syria, by traveling to different cities, like Damascus, Aleppo and Homs.
In Homs, called the “martyred city”, “opposition forces have occupied two areas, Diwan Al Bustan and Hamidieh, where there are all the churches and bishoprics,” the Archimandrite told Fides. “The picture for us – he continues – is utter desolation: the church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything. The area of Hamidieh is still shelter to armed groups independent of each other, heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All Christians (138,000) have fled to Damascus and Lebanon, while others took refuge in the surrounding countryside. A priest was killed and another was wounded by three bullets. Still a couple live there, but the five bishops have had to take refuge in Damascus and Lebanon. “The Christian leader continues: “In the capital car bombs and assassinations on behalf of Islamist suicide bombers, drawn by the desire of heaven, that cradle the dream of the end of the Alawite regime are feared. Currently the country, through the bloody work of adventurers who are not Syrian is trying to be destabilized. The former French ambassador, Eric Chevallier, reported this information, which was always rejected, while many details remain to be forged to keep the war against Syria,” denounced the Bishop to Fides. In Damascus in recent weeks, there were terrible attacks that ended with a toll: of 130 deaths (including 34 Christians), 400 injured and many houses damaged. “The consternation was general, indescribable pain,” notes the Archimandrite, recalling that “the Syrians are simple and playful people.” As far as Christians are concerned the Bishop says: “Christians live in peace, sharing the sufferings of all, but they are ready to admit that they have never felt so free in the past and to remember the full recognition of their rights, given to them by this government.” Mgr. Philip Tournyol Clos says the key to Syrian Christian and Muslim leaders, who say: “The enemies of Syria have enlisted some of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to destroy the brotherly relations that traditionally existed between Muslims and Christians: Yet, to date,they are not able to: they have provoked a contrary reaction and the two communities are more united than before.” The Syrian soldiers in fact, continue to face foreign fighters, mercenaries Libyans, Lebanese militants from the Gulf, Afghans, Turks. “The Sunni Salafist militants – says the Bishop – continue to commit crimes against civilians, or to recruit fighters with force. The fanatical Sunni extremists are fighting a holy war proudly, especially against the Alawites. When terrorists seek to control the religious identity of a suspect, they ask him to cite the genealogies dating back to Moses. And they ask to recite a prayer that the Alawites removed. The Alawites have no chance to get out alive.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides 04/06/2012)