CHRISTIANS in Syria are accusing al-Qaeda-backed Islamists of
having carryied out one of the worst atrocities of the war so far,
and killed more than 40 members of the minority Christian community
during their occupation of the town of Sadad, north of Damascus.
The Syrian government announced last week that its forces had
regained control of this strategic town.
In a report by the news service of the Pontifical Mission
Societies, Agenzia Fides, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs
and Hama, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, said: "Forty-five
innocent civilians were martyred for no reason." It was, he said,
the "biggest massacre of Christians in Syria in the past
The Archbishop said that he was shocked at the way in which the
world was allowing the killing of Christians in Syria to continue.
"Where is the Christian conscience? Where is human consciousness?
Where are my brothers?"
Sadad is one of the oldest Christian towns in the world. "All
the houses of Sadad were robbed and property looted," Archbishop
Alnemeh said. "The churches are damaged and desecrated, deprived of
old books and precious furniture. Schools, government buildings,
municipal buildings have been destroyed."
Condemnation of violence against Christians in Syria has come
from the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) in the UK and
Ireland. In a statement, it said that it was convinced that "a
majority of Muslims and Christians condemn such violence. Like us,
they, too, believe that such acts are contrary to the genuine
values, teachings, and traditions of the followers of all three
Abrahamic traditions in the Middle East North Africa region."
It appealed "to all parties in Syria - the government as much as
the opposition factions - to ensure that the longstanding
conviviality between all believers and communities is not broken by
actions that use Islam for unIslamic ends".
A meeting of Arab Christian representatives in Beirut last
weekend also condemned the killings. One delegate said it was
"imperative that we unite under one umbrella to agree on our
stances and further join together to make decisions and pressure
local governments and the international community".
The violence in Sadad represents just a fraction of that
occurring daily in Syria. Early on Tuesday morning, a mortar round
struck the Holy See's nunciature in Damascus, causing damage to the
roof, but not injuring anyone. There was no indication who had
fired the round or if the nunciature had been targeted.
The UN estimates that some 9.3 million people in Syria, or about
40 per cent of the total population of 23 million, now need outside
assistance - up from 6.8 million in September.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the UN,
Baroness Amos, said that the crisis in Syria "continues to
deteriorate rapidly and inexorably". More than 100,000 people are
thought to have died in the conflict, and 6.5 million have been
internally displaced. Of the two million Syrians who have sought
refuge overseas, more than 700,000 are in Lebanon.
About 50,000 Christians from the Qalamoun district, north of
Damascus, much of which was recently occupied and destroyed by
Islamist rebels, are awaiting a reply from the Moscow authorities
to a request to be granted Russian citizenship.
A spokesman for President Putin said that the request was being
considered. In their letter to the Russian authorities, the
Christians described Russia as a "positive element for global peace
and security", and they accused the West of supporting the
Bishops host Middle East debates
by Tim Wyatt
TWO bishops hosted debates on the Middle East in the
House of Lords last week. In the first, on 29 October, the Bishop
of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, spoke about the plight
of religious minorities in the
"The freedom of religion and belief is a primary
barometer of the social health of a nation," he said. "Against this
standard, the record in Arab Spring countries to date is all too
often weak and troubling."
As they form some of the oldest Christian communities on
earth, Bishop Platten said that he was especially concerned about
Arab Christians. He also suggested that the Foreign Office appoint
an "ambassador-at-large for religious freedom", to support
persecuted minorities across the Middle East.
Another speaker, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said:
"Western governments are curiously reluctant to intervene on behalf
of Christians and minorities. Christian churches are burnt down,
suicide bombers launch attacks on church leaders, while some, such
as the Syrian Archbishop of Aleppo, are abducted" (News, 31
Lord Alton of Liverpool spoke about attacks on Coptic
Christians in Egypt, describing August as
"Egypt's Kristallnacht" for the Copts.
Speaking on behalf of the Government, Lord Ahmad of
Wimbledon said that all violence and discrimination against people
because of their faith should be condemned: "It is a tragedy that
some countries risk seeing the disappearance altogether of some
communities which have existed there for centuries. Life in Syria
for Christians and other minority communities is extremely
difficult." He ended by quoting Jesus: "Blessed are the
peacemakers; for they shall be called children of
On 30 October, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd
Christopher Cocksworth, hosted a debate on the crisis in Syria. The
Government should be applauded, he said, for orchestrating the
largest ever UK response to a humanitarian catastrophe; but he
urged ministers to press other nations to honour their commitments
The Government's spokesman, Lord Bates, told the House
that the UK had contributed £500 million in aid, fed 320,000
people, and improved sanitation for more than 1.2
"The UK is supporting survivors of sexual and
gender-based violence - for example, by providing clinical care and
case management for 12,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan," he