Syrian President Basher Assad isn’t the only target of Syrian rebels as Syria’s Orthodox Christian Church reports “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant groups in the embattled Syrian city of Homs.
The report from the Vatican news agency Fides says Brigade Faruq, which has links with elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Islamist mercenaries from Libya, has expelled 90 percent of Christians living in Homs, nearly 50,000 people.
Reportedly, the armed Islamists went door to door in the Christian neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan informing the homeowners that if they did not leave immediately they would be shot. Then pictures of their corpses would be taken and sent to al-Jazeera, along with the message that the Syrian government had killed them.
As such, the men, women and children — denied by the Islamists from taking any of their belongings — were forced to flee to mountain villages 30 miles outside of Homs, their homes occupied by the militants who claimed the owners’ possessions as “war-booty from the Christians.”
According to reports by Barnabas Aid, a relief agency assisting Syrian Christians, the forced Christian exodus from Homs has been ongoing since the beginning of February when armed Islamists murdered more than 200 Christians, “including entire families with young children.”
At that time a representative of Barnabas Aid pleaded, “Christians are being forced to flee the city to the safety of government-controlled areas. Muslim rebel fighters and their families are taking over their homes.”
Unfortunately, Islamist attacks against Syria’s Christian community, including kidnappings and murder, have occurred almost from the onset of the popular uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad which began in March 2011.
These murders, which have killed over 100 Christians, include the hanging of a 28-year-old man; a 40 year-old father of two shot dead; two young men killed while waiting in line at a bakery; and a 37-year-old father with a pregnant wife, his body cut into pieces and thrown in a river.
Most recently, a car bombing targeted the Christian district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, killing three and wounding 30. As Giuseppe Nazzaro, the Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo, said, “In this situation the Islamist and terrorist movements are making headway,” adding “These are bad times for religious minorities.”
Unhappily, these sectarian attacks on Christians have sparked fears that Syria could become like Iraq, where church attacks, kidnappings and forced expulsions by armed Islamist militant groups after the US invasion in 2003 drove Iraq’s Christian population from 1.4 million to less than 300,000 today.
For its part, leaders of the Syrian opposition have denied sectarian motives against Christians, noting that, even though the Syrian insurgency is rooted in the nation’s Sunni Muslim majority, all groups are welcome to join the Syrian rebellion.
Not surprisingly, that open invitation to join its ranks has gone largely unanswered among Syrian Christians who make up 10 percent of Syria’s 23 million, mostly Sunni Muslim populace.
Specifically, Syrian Christians have long viewed Assad’s secular regime as being generally more tolerant of Syria’s religious minorities, a belief certainly buttressed by the current anti-Christian violence being perpetrated against them by Syrian Islamists.
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