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ICC Note:
The ongoing civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition rebel groups has claimed nearly 100,000 lives. In recent months Syria’s religious minorities – Christians and Shiite Muslims – have become targets of Islamic militants who have joined in the opposition forces. Bombings, shootings, vandalism, and an “epidemic of kidnappings” are among the abuses being faced by Syrians.
By Patrick J. McDonnell
6/29/2013 Syria (LA Times) – This prosperous hillside town north of Damascus appears a universe away from another capital suburb, Sayyida Zainab, a cluttered, frenzied urban patch off the road to the international airport.
Sednaya is a Christian mountain bastion ringed by monasteries; Sayyida Zainab is a lowland Shiite Muslim island in the midst of a largely Sunni Muslim nation.
But, in war-ravaged Syria, the two are in a similar position: Both are renowned shrine towns whose residents say they live under constant threat of attack — even annihilation — by Islamist Sunni rebels active in the outskirts of each locale.

In Qusair, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Elias was defaced during a more than yearlong rebel occupation of the town near the Lebanese border. During a recent visit, a reporter saw vandalized images of saints and Christ and graffiti scrawled on church walls berating “infidels.”
Residents of minority communities, such as the Christians of Sednaya, predict that eviction or death will be their fate if they do not resist now. They don’t buy the talk about democracy coming from Washington and other foreign capitals that support the rebels.
“If the terrorists come here, none of us will be left alive,” says Hussam Azar, a.k.a. the Whale, who heads the self-defense effort here. “They will kill us all.”
An epidemic of kidnappings has already traumatized Syria’s Christian community, which is less than 10% of the population. Two Christian bishops remain missing since being abducted in April while driving in rebel territory near Aleppo. Last week, a Catholic priest, Francois Murad, was slain in northern Syria when Islamic militants attacked the monastery where he was staying, according to Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news agency.
Though the opposition demonizes Assad as a killer, residents here and in other minority communities often view the embattled president and his army — complemented by a growing contingent of loyalist militiamen — as the last bulwark preventing so-called sectarian cleansing.
The Christians of Sednaya are only too aware of what happened to the ancient Christian community of neighboring Iraq, where, after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Islamic militants unleashed a reign of terror against Christians, bombing churches, burning shops and assassinating community leaders. Much of Iraq’s Christian population fled, many to Syria, then still a beacon of stability and relative religious tolerance.

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