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A Special Report by ICC
 07/10/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)–Syrian Christians have suffered increasing persecution since the outbreak of civil war in the country. Christians are targeted by the government, opposition forces and radical Islamists –making it necessary for them to flee their homeland.
 Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the House congressional panel overseeing global human rights issues, warned that religious minorities in Syria were being killed or persecuted at an alarming rate. “The Assad government was guilty of serious human rights violations, including the summary imprisonment and execution of political opponents. But relations between the various religious groups were generally not violent. That civil co-existence has ended with the war,” he said.
 The Christians of Aleppo have been particularly hard hit by the fighting, as the city is currently one of the major battlefields of the civil war. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Christians have fled Aleppo as a result of the fighting, with more than a third of the city destroyed by the war, according to the latest Vulnerability Assessment report on Syria’s Christians by Open Door’s World Watch Monitor (WWM).
 The abduction of two bishops from Aleppo, on April 22, has added to the widespread fear among Syrian Christians that they will be deliberately targeted by Islamist extremists and criminals in front-line areas such as Aleppo and Damascus. The two men were highly regarded for their humanitarian work and were considered to be “politically neutral” in the conflict.
 Caught in Crossfire
Syrian Christian leaders assert that more than 1,000 Syrian Christians have been killed in the fighting and more than 400,000 internally displaced or made refugees in the country’s neighboring countries. They also claim that more than 40 Christian churches, orphanages, and medical centers were destroyed or damaged as a result of the conflict, according to the WWM report.
 Christians are “caught in the crossfire of the strife between government and opposition forces and suffer violence from both parties,” writes Dennis Pastoor, coordinator of the report. Although the violence was not found to be restricted to Christians, affecting everyone, the fact remains that Christians were found to be “soft targets, particularly vulnerable” to some things, including hostility in refugee camps, targeting by radical Islamists and criminals, and confiscation of land.
 Christian women are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, while Christian men are facing pressure from both sides to join the battle. Christians are scared to engage in public displays of worship, while proportionally more Christian refugees are leaving Syria than any other religious or ethnic group, according to the WWM report.
 A report sent to Aid to the Church in Need, written by a priest, describes the situation in the city of Homs, Syria’s third largest city which has been devastated conflict. A car bomb left 11 people dead, five of whom were his parishioners. An earlier explosion took the life of a 10-year-old Catholic boy and injured three other children.
 “There are many different problems which are being faced by Christians who are living in Homs,” said the priest in his report, “from being caught up in the conflict, to the shortage of supplies which is causing major deprivation among the families out there.”
 Deliberate Attacks
Even though the Assad regime was oppressive, it managed to regulate cordial relations between religious communities. But with the ongoing civil war, Islamist radicals have thrown off all restraint and have aggressively begun to target Christians for persecution.
 Dr John Eibner, chief executive of Christian Solidarity International, said the deaths of Christians did not appear to be collateral damage but the result of deliberate attacks. “Victims recounted to me details of the religious cleansing of Christian neighbourhoods in Homs and Qasair by armed jihadis who threatened them with death and the destruction of their property if they did not leave their home,” he said, as reported by Christian Today.
 With Christian persecution ensuing in the midst of the ongoing civil war, fears are peaking over the future of Syria if the government is overthrown by opposition forces dominated by Islamists, a scenario that is most likely to occur.
 International Christian Concern’s Middle East Regional Manager, Todd Daniels, says, “While many Christians have denounced the violence of President al-Assad, the increasing extremism and Islamic militancy of the opposition forces may ultimately prove an even worse option. ICC expresses continued support and prayers for our Syrian brothers and sisters who are in the midst of very dangerous times.”
 No matter what the outcome of the war, there is no visible scenario that guarantees a better future for Christians in Syria. “Christians face the prospect of never being able to return to their homes and businesses or of returning to a civil order that is less pluralistic and accepting of minority rights than before the war,” says Nicolas Heras, political commentator who provided his analysis on the WWM report.
 In a situation that appears to be worsening by the day, Syria’s Christians need a praying Church and an intentional political initiative from the West, to salvage a better future for all Syrians, despite the odds against it.

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