BY Ian Dunn | June 13 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

13-Syria-US

Christians flee Syrian town after rebel ultimatum

Community abandons Qusair after threats from rebel military chief, according to news service of the Pontifical Missions Society

Much of the Christian population of the besieged Syrian city of Qusair has abandoned the town after an ‘ultimatum’ from the rebel military chief there, according to Agenzia Fides, the news service of the Pontifical Missions Society.

The ultimatum expired last Thursday, with the report saying that most of the city’s 10,000 Christians have fled the city, situated in the battleground province of Homs.

“Some mosques in the city have relaunched the message, announcing from the minarets: ‘Christians must leave Quasir,’” the report said.

Qusair has been the site of intense clashes for months between armed rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. The strategic city is close to the Lebanese border and has been a smuggling hub for arms and medicines destined for rebel forces in the embattled city of Homs, about 15 miles to the northeast, which has already seen most of its large Christian population flee.

The reasons for the ultimatum ordering Christians to leave Qusair ‘remain unclear,’ the Fides report said. “According to some, it serves to avoid more suffering to the faithful; other sources reveal ‘a continuity focused on discrimination and repression.’ Still others argue that Christians have openly expressed their loyalty to the state and for this reason the opposition army drives them away.”

Syrian opposition groups have denied the reports, however, saying they are government propaganda.

“We, the people of al-Qusair, confirm that we have lived together with our beloved Christian brothers and sisters for decades, working together and living alongside one another,” a statement said to be from the rebel leadership in Qusair stated.

Christians represent about 10 per cent of Syria’s population, but their status in Syrian conflict zones has become more and more tenuous. Many Christians remain loyal to President Assad because his government has been tolerant of religious minorities. Many fear an Islamist takeover could result in the kind of repression that occurred in neighboring Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein—who, like President Assad—was a secular autocrat. Militants in post-Hussein Iraq bombed churches, torched Christian shops and forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee to Syria, long regarded as safe for Christians.

 

Pic: A protester demonstrates in Chicago in the US last month in opposition to the Syrian regime. Pope Benedict XVI has joined the international community in condemning violence in the country Syria

 

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