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ICC Note: For the thousands of Syrian Christians still in the country, the prospect of jihadist advances has them on guard. The Wadi al-Nasara (Valley of the Christians) has escaped much of the fighting that has ravaged Syria for more than three years, but its residents are fearful that the fighting that is just miles away will soon engulf their lands as well. Local residents are seeking to protect their lands, but unsure of as many are also fearful of the prospects that come from the Assad regime, as well as the brutality of the Jihadist groups like ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.

09/09/2014 Syria (Al-Monitor) – The Christian residents of Wadi al-Nasara have felt reassurance and calm as the Syrian regime has been able to maintain control over the area and its surroundings throughout much of the conflict. But that ease has been rattled by the Islamic State’s (IS) advances in the east of Syria, and the violations it committed against Christians in Mosul.

The Wadi al-Nasara region is in the countryside of western Homs. It’s made up of a group of villages located below the surrounding ones. Most inhabitants are Christians and the largest village is Marmarita. Although Wadi al-Nasara administratively belongs to Homs province, it is geographically and demographically closer to the mountains of the Syrian coast, as they merge with the town of Tartus from the west. Moreover, Wadi al-Nasara and its surroundings have particular importance in the context of the conflict raging in Syria because it enjoys pronounced sectarian diversity, with Alawite, Sunni and Christian villages spread throughout the area. Moreover, the region has significant strategic value as it overlooks the southeastern entrance of the Syrian coast, which is considered the stronghold of the Syrian regime.

To the south of Wadi al-Nasara is the mostly Sunni town of Krak des Chevaliers — named after the Crusader era castle that, before the war, was one of the most well-preserved medieval castles in the world — and the towns of al-Zara and Telkalakh, which staged massive protests against the Syrian regime and faced violent crackdowns. The towns fell under rebel control, but in March Syrian forces took control of most of the region and entered Krak des Chevaliers.

When brigades with Islamist tendencies in mid-2012 took over al-Zara and Krak des Chevaliers, which are close to the villages of Wadi al-Nasara, fear and concern gripped residents of the area, with local youth joining the fighting alongside government forces as part of the National Defense Forces. The inhabitants of Wadi al-Nasara regained their tranquility after the rebel brigades were defeated and expelled from the towns, which remain deserted today.

On a high mountain adjacent to Marmarita a large monument of the Virgin Mary is located, which overlooks a plain valley including the Christian village of al-Nasirah, while the al-Hosn fort and the town surrounding it lie at the end of the valley.

Al-Monitor was accompanied there by a local man from Marmarita, who wished to remain anonymous. From where we stood, next to the statue, he pointed toward the town of al-Hosn.

“Who would believe that this small town surrounding the castle in front of us witnessed battles and violent cannon and aircraft shelling for over 1½ years and that hundreds of martyrs died to expel the militants? If only a few militants caused all this havoc, what would happen today if IS’ men attacked us?” he said.

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