Two new mass graves containing over 30 bodies in the Christian city of Sadad were recently discovered, evidence of what one archbishop called “the most serious and biggest massacre” of Christians in Syria.
A report published by Fides on Thursday stated that some 45 Christian civilians, including women and children, were killed by Islamist rebels in Sadad, halfway between Homs and Damascus.
The report, which cited the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, stated that the Christian settlement was invaded and occupied by Islamist militias on Oct.
Alnemeh maintains that it is the largest massacre of Christians in Syria and the second in the Middle East after the 2010 attack on a church in Iraq that left at least 58 dead.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that rebel shelling has “increasingly hit several majority-Christian districts” in Damascus along with other predominantly Christian towns in Syria.
The increasingly frequent rebel attacks on areas heavily populated by Christians have “fueled fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists and foreign fighters among the rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad’s rule,” according to the Post.
Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch of Antioch and all the East, estimated that over 450,000 of the 1.75-2 million Christians in Syria have fled their homes since 2011, according to the Christian Post.
The shelling and recent rebel assaults on predominantly Christian towns have fueled fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists and foreign fighters among the rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad’s rule.
Though some Christians oppose Assad’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and the community has tried to stay on the sidelines in the civil war, the rebellion’s increasingly outspoken Islamist rhetoric and the prominent role of Islamic extremist fighters have pushed them toward support of the government.
“When you bring a Christian and make him choose between Assad and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the answer is clear,” said Hilal Khashan, a political scientist professor at the American University of Beirut, referring to the Al-Qaida branch fighting alongside the rebels.
A week ago, rebels from the Al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Christian town of Sadad, north of Damascus, seizing control until they were driven out Monday after fierce fighting with government forces.
The rebels appear to have targeted the town because of its strategic location near the main highway north of Damascus, rather than because it is Christian.
Similarly, thousands fled the ancient Christian-majority town of Maaloula when rebels took control of it last month, holding it for several days until government forces retook it.
Christians in Damascus are convinced that extremists are deliberately targeting their neighborhoods as rebels battle government forces trying to uproot them from the towns they control outside the capital.
Nationwide, some 450,000 Christians have fled their homes, part of an exodus of some 7 million during the 2 -year civil war, according to Church officials.
Syrian Church leaders fear that Assad’s fall would lead to an Islamist state that would spell the end to the centuries-old existence of Christians on Syrian soil.