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ICC Note: While the US seems to have stepped back from the brink of military engagement in Syria, the conflict on the ground for the country’s Christian community remains in full force. Christians continue to face threats from militant Islamic extremists who are fighting not just to remove the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad but also to implement a brand of Sharia law that leaves no room for Christians in society. The results have already been tragic with numerous stories of kidnapping, brutal murders, and rape coming from towns where these elements have taken hold. The need for support and essential aid remains urgent.
By Mindy Belz
9/20/2013 Syria (World) – So quickly the headlines turn from Syria and the Middle East to debt ceiling debates and budget resolutions. Are you really going to be led around by your nose from one story with no legs to another? When the White House goes to war in Syria, it’s like another weekend of fantasy football. In Syria war is a durable commodity. Just because America blinked doesn’t mean the conflict went away.
Even as Secretary of State John Kerry explained his “unbelievably small” war plan—and President Barack Obama polished his speech derailing that small plan—a new and menacing front opened in Syria’s two-and-a-half-year war.
Rebels blasted through a government checkpoint Sept. 5 outside Maaloula, a town of about 2,000 people 35 miles northeast of Damascus. Maaloula is one of the oldest continually inhabited Christian villages in the world yet retains a vibrant connection to its past. In 2002 I spent a memorable morning there, listening to locals recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic inside the stone-walled chancel of Mar Sarkis monastery.
The town sits in the cleft of a cliff beneath the Qalamoun Mountains, and rebel fighters first stormed a hotel atop the cliff at about 6 a.m. As shelling began to rain down, residents who could fled by car to Damascus. Dozens more took refuge in nearby churches, including a convent where nuns hid 27 orphans in their care inside a cave. The Syrian army sent in warplanes to bomb rebel posts, reportedly forcing them to abandon control of Maaloula after several days.
Rima Tüzün of the Syriac Union told me that days after the attack 30 Christians were missing, and at least six had been killed. Mar Sarkis was bombed but the extent of damage wasn’t known.
Christians in Syria are increasingly targeted. What’s significant about the September confrontation in Maaloula is the rebels hit a protected Christian village, and Mar Sarkis—one of the oldest surviving monasteries and continuously used churches in the world—is a national landmark long treasured by Christian and Muslim Syrians alike.
What’s also significant is the attack began with a jihadist from the al Nusra Front blowing himself up at a government checkpoint, but the rebel onslaught included Free Syrian Army units, the so-called moderate rebel elements. Had the United States acted militarily in Syria just ahead of this attack, it would have acted in concert with this crossbreed of terrorists and so-called freedom fighters. And it would likely have suppressed the kind of air cover that allowed Syrian forces to come to Maaloula’s rescue.

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