BEIRUT (TheBlaze/AP) — Are Christians in danger of increased persecution in Syria?
This is a question that TheBlaze explored in-depth on Thursday and one that many advocates and thought-leaders are posing. In light of the events that unfolded this week in the ever-contentious conflict, exploring the subject is paramount.
Following our initial report about the abuses against Christians at the hands of rebels, activists now say the Syrian government has dispatched reinforcements to a predominantly Christian village north of Damascus where rebels have clashed with regime troops this week.
In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 file photo, thousands of Syrians, most of them Christians, celebrate the Christian Day of the Cross, by setting a fire on top of a mountain in the village of Maaloula, north of Damascus. Credit: AP
The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the government forces sent to Maaloula include tanks and armored personnel carriers. Rami Abdul-Rahman says that they have taken up positions outside the village, which is still under the control of local pro-regime militias.
Al-Qaida-linked rebel factions (part of the Jabhat al-Nusra group) first attacked Maaloula on Wednesday, and briefly entered the mountainside sanctuary before withdrawing late Thursday. Abdul-Rahman said that the two sides were still skirmishing around the village on Friday.
The chaos was sparked earlier this week when an al-Nusra adherent blew himself up at the village’s entrance, sparking fighting that extended into Thursday in the surrounding mountain area. There are 3,300 residents in the village — and many of them speak Aramaic, the language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.
Earlier this week, a nun told the AP on condition of anonymity that residents expect the Islamic militants to return to a local hotel that they captured — and then vacated. This, of course, would be potentially horrific, especially if Christians are further brutalized and forced out of the area. The government's placement of reinforcements there would potentially stop such an occurrence from unfolding.
In this Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Free Syrian army fighter during clashes with government forces, unseen, in Maaloula, western Syria. Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day Thursday, as world leaders gathered in Russia for an economic summit expected to be overshadowed by the prospect of U.S.-led strikes against the Damascus regime. Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday, Sept. 4,2013. Credit: Associated Press
This example is only the latest example of what Christians face in the war-torn nation, as radical Islamists target non-Muslims. Earlier this month, the AP also reported on an alleged massacre in which 11 people who were mostly Christians were shot and killed during a Christian feast (there are differing details and numbers, with some saying that only nine of the group were Christians).
And of course, there was the tragic case of Fr. Francois Murad, a Catholic priest, who was killed earlier this summer in Syria. While it was initially alleged that he was beheaded, it inevitably turned out that Murad was shot by jihadists. He was martyred on June 23 when, as Catholic Online reports, “he was … taking refuge in the monastery of St. Simon … jihadits rebels [allegedly] entered the monastery to ransack the place and Murad was shot while attempting to defend his sister nuns.”
The attack on Maaloula has, again, spotlighted fears among Syria's religious minorities about the growing role of extremists in the rebel ranks fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad's regime. You can read TheBlaze's full report about Christians and their standing in the ongoing conflict.