Multiple reports of attacks on minority religious sites have surfaced in Syria as the armed conflict to out Syrian President Bashar Assad has killed more than 60,000 people and driven over 650,000 out of the country, according to UN estimates.
The 22-month-old rebellion has taken on increasingly sectarian dimensions, as primarily Sunni Muslim rebels have battled pro-government Alawites – an offshoot of Shiite Islam – and many Christians who link their survival to that of the Assad government.
Christians have increasingly viewed the current government as a guarantor of their religious freedoms. Religious persecution faced by Egyptian and Iraqi Christians in the wake of regime change has only increased fears that religiously tolerant Syria will be transformed by Islamist elements of the opposition.
Such sentiments have put them in the crosshairs of rebel fighters.
In August, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported a massacre in nearby Jandar village which left 16 civilians, mostly Alawites and Christians, dead.
In June, at least 9,000 Christians from the western Syrian city of Qusayr neighboring Homs were reportedly forced to seek refuge after an ultimatum from a local military chief of the armed opposition. In March, sources inside the Syrian Orthodox Church have claimed the systematic “ethnic cleansing of Christians" by the Free Syrian Army was taking place in Homs. A letter sent to Agenzia Fides – the Vatican’s press agency – by Orthodox sources in Syria said that “Militant armed Islamists…have managed to expel 90 per cent of Christians in Homs and confiscated their homes by force.”
Agnes Mariam, a local Christian leader in Syria, told RT in September that the persecution of Christians was a reflection of how their faith had excluded them from Islamist elements within the opposition. “The Christians have been discriminated against not because they are Christians, but because by being Christians they couldn’t participate in Islamist demonstrations. Sometimes, this led to severe violence against them. You know, we had more than 200,000 Christians that had to flee out [of Syria] because of this ambiguous position.”