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Priest in Syria killed on mercy mission

02 November 2012


On the mat: President al-Assad of Syria at al-Hamad mosque, Damascus, earlier this year

On the mat: President al-Assad of Syria at al-Hamad mosque, Damascus, earlier this year

AS increasingly ferocious attacks are made on districts inhabited by Christians, the murder of a kidnapped Greek Orthodox priest has further terrified minority communities in Syria.

The priest, Fr Fady Haddad, from the mixed Christian-Muslim town of Qatana, west of Damascus, was seized while trying to secure the release of a kidnapped Christian doctor. After reaching an agreement on the ransom to be paid, the priest went with the kidnap victim's stepfather to pay over the money. At this point, both men were captured by an armed gang. Fr Haddad's tortured body was discovered on Thursday of last week in Jaramana, a predominantly Christian and Druze quarter of Damascus, close to where he was seized.

A statement from the Orthodox Patriarchate condemned the "savage crime", and denounced "attacks against civilians and religious figures who try to be messengers of peace under these difficult circumstances".

A spokesman for the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, blamed President Bashar al-Assad's government for the priest's murder, and described Fr Haddad as a "symbol of national unity. Gangs belonging to the regime killed him in order to drag Syria into sectarian strife." The Syrian government said that Fr Haddad had been captured and killed by "terrorists" - the term it uses for opposition fighters.

In the mean time, a number of Christian neighbourhoods in Damascus, Aleppo, and elsewhere have witnessed a renewal of violence in the form of car-bomb attacks, and fighting between the army and armed rebels. On Monday, the fourth day of the generally unsuccessful truce arranged by the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to coincide with the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, a car bomb killed and injured dozens of Christians and Druze in Jaramana. On the same day, another car bomb exploded in the nearby Damascus district of al-Hajar al-Aswad, causing yet more casualties. Once again, the government and opposition forces traded accusations about who was behind the attacks.

The Barnabas Fund says that it has received an urgent request from its partners in Syria for prayers for Christians in Aleppo. Large residential areas have been invaded by opposition fighters, including the mainly Christian area of al-Syriaan al-Jadide.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) put two checkpoints in front of a Baptist church building, and took over a Christian school. The other main Christian district, al-Syriaan al-Qadime, has also fallen to the opposition. Snipers have been positioned on the roofs in both areas. Meanwhile, armed FSA groups have attacked the al-Zukhur district of the city, which is home to many of the Armenian community.

The prospect of a new wave of Syrian Christians' seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon has been raised by the Bishop with responsibility for Maronite Catholics in Europe, Bishop Maroun Nasser Gemayel. He said that the attacks on Christian districts meant that thousands of people felt they had no option but to flee, "despite their great love of their homeland".

The issue of what the Church of England might be able to do to help Christian communities in Syria was raised in the House of Commons last week. Church Commissioners were asked for their assessment of the potential support that they might provide. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said that Lambeth Palace and the Church of England were "in regular contact with Christian development and mission agencies as to how best the Church might support vulnerable communities in Syria". But the nature of the conflict meant that it was "proving incredibly difficult to give support to those communities in most need. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains in regular contact with religious leaders in Syria, as well as with religious leaders from neighbouring countries."


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