Caught between the larger Sunni-Shi’a battles for supremacy in Syria, Christians are forced to contemplate an uncertain future as Western powers debate action against the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Christians are faced with a difficult situation due to the Syrian civil war. Many Christians support Assad out of fear that if he is overthrown and replaced by Islamists, they will face greater persecution, especially from al-Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim rebel groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, who have attacked Christians. At the same time, Assad and his government are supported by Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah, and have used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
Christian villagers in Wadi al-Nassara (Valley of Christians) in western Syria, home to around 50,000 Christians, have formed “popular defense committees” with the blessing of the Syrian government, according to AFP.
These “popular defense committees” are militias armed and trained by the Syrian government to supplement the Syrian army and protect their own neighborhoods or villages from attacks by rebels. Many of these militias are comprised of Syrian minority groups such as the Christians, Druze and Alawites.
Christian leaders in Syria have faced growing danger from rebels. In April, two Syrian bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were kidnapped at gunpoint at a rebel checkpoint near Aleppo. Their whereabouts are still unknown. In early July, a video posted on LiveLeak.com apparently showed Syrian Catholic priest Father Francois Murad being beheaded by the Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels, Jabhat al-Nusra, in front of a cheering crowd. While there are conflicting reports over whether Murad was depicted in the video, the Vatican has confirmed that Murad, along with two others, were taken from a monastery in northern Syria and killed. In late July, an al-Qaeda linked group abducted Italian Jesuit Priest Paolo Dall’Oglio.