ICC Note: For Christians in Syria, the specter of Islamic extremist groups taking over their towns has them fearful, even after having survived nearly four years of war. Their call to the international community is to help them be able to stay, which means making sure that terrorist groups are not receiving arms and weapons that they use against Christians and other minorities.
11/22/2014 Syria (Telegraph) Outgoing artillery shook St Elias church as the priest reached the end of the Lord’s Prayer.
The small congregation kept their eyes on the pulpit, kneeling when required and trying to ignore the regular thuds that rattled the stained glass windows above them.
Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the hard to reach Syrian agricultural town of Izraa has stood the comings and goings of many empires over the centuries.
But as the country’s civil war creeps closer, it is threatening to force the town’s Christians into permanent exile: never to return, they fear.
“I have been coming to this church since I was born,” said Afaf Azam, 52. “But now the situation is very bad. Everyone is afraid. Jihadists control villages around us.”
A Canaanite city that was mentioned in the Bible, Izraa has lived through Persian and Arab rule, with St Elias’s Church being built in 542AD – 28 years before the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca.
During the past four years of Syria’s war, its Christian population has largely stayed put, despite the war destroying much of the surrounding province of Deraa.
In the last two weeks however, men from the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebel groups have captured the nearby towns of Nawa and al-Sheikh Maskin, bringing the frontline to less than two miles away. They are now trying to assault Izraa.
Some of the rebels were vetted by the CIA as “moderate Muslims” and subsequently trained and armed in Jordan, as part of a US-led program to bolster a non-sectarian opposition to President Bashar-Assad.