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ICC Note: Syria’s Christian community remains caught in the middle between an opposition group that has attacked churches, kidnapped priests, and raped women and a brutal dictator who has repeatedly attacked civilians and reportedly used chemical weapons against his own people. Both of them have attempted to try to gain the support of Christians but their tactics appear to be largely political maneuvering and do not reflect any real desire to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
By Jack Khoury
9/11/2013 Syria (Haaretz) – The battles that have been raging since last week in the Syrian town of Maaloula have thrust Syria’s Christian community into the international spotlight.
Located 50 kilometers west of Damascus, Maaloula is full of historic churches and monasteries and some of its residents still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago
The fighting began when rebel forces, after capturing army checkpoints on the main road from Homs to Damascus, entered the town and reportedly set up camp in a hotel and outside several monasteries. The rebels deny that the well-planned assault, which coincided with last week’s G-8 meeting in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, was aimed at putting pressure on the leaders gathered there. Rather, they said, it was essential for them to take control of the checkpoints on the Homs-Damascus road in order to ensure their supply lines.
In a bid to win Christian support, the rebels distributed a video clip showing a field commander urging his men not to harm the town’s churches and monasteries. The Assad regime countered with pictures of the rebels shooting in the air and at various buildings in Maaloula, as well as of a local church damaged by mortar fire.
The rebels accuse the regime of planning to exploit their presence in the town to damage Christian holy places, harm the local population and then blame the rebels for it. But Facebook posts by Maaloula residents reveal fear that members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel militia affiliated with Al-Qaida, will be the ones to attack local Christians and/or loot their holy sites. The town has already suffered civilian casualties from the shelling and gunfire and some of its young people have taken up arms and organized into local security committees in an effort to protect it.
Over the weekend, Syrian television reported that the rebels had left the downtown area and the army was pursuing them. But pictures from Maaloula posted on Facebook showed the fighting continuing. Two days ago, the Free Syrian Army posted a video clip saying the rebels were willing to withdraw from the town if regime forces would promise not to enter in their stead. The group, a coalition of several rebel militias, said it made the offer to prevent bloodshed and keep Maaloula out of the fighting.

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