Syrian War Crimes Brought to Spotlight
The international news is full of stories about the desperate political state in Syria, the international response, the negotiations, and the progress of chemical weapon destruction. While the civil war is negatively affecting everyone in Syria, as well as the thousands who have fled, Christians seem to be targeted in particular ways.
A report prepared for Open Doors International, which works to distribute aid relief to Syria’s internally displaced persons as well as refugees in bordering countries through partner churches, confirms that Syrian “Christians are increasingly becoming targets of violence purposely conducted by Salafist and jihadist groups.”
Just last week, the Vatican reported that 12 nuns were abducted as opposition rebels captured Syria’s historically Christian town of Maaloula on Dec 2. The majority of the town’s Christian population is thought to have fled during clashes between government forces and rebels in September, leaving behind a mainly Muslim population.
The 40 nuns of the Orthodox Mar Takla convent were among the few determined to stay, until 12 were abducted. They were reportedly taken against their will to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. Febronia Nabhan, Mother Superior of a neighboring convent told the Associated Press that the nuns who were abducted were accompanied by three additional women, increasing the total women taken to 15. Nabhan said that the Maaloula convent’s Mother Superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her later on Monday to assure her that they were all “fine and safe.”
Maaloula, 40 miles northeast of Damascus, is a symbol of Syria’s ancient Christian roots, one of the few remaining places where Aramaic-the language spoken by Jesus-is still spoken.
In a separate incident, earlier this fall, Sadad, a predominantly Christian town, was invaded by Islamist militias who held the town for several days before the Syrian army regained control on October 31.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified the names of 46 people killed during the violent occupation, 41 of whom were civilians, including 14 women and two children. HRW confirmed early reports of six bodies found in a well, their hands tied, blindfolded, and with gunshot wounds. They reported that at least one resident had been used as a human shield, and that “at least three churches of local and historical significance” were vandalized and looted. Human Rights Watch reported evidence that damage to the churches was intentional.
A number of Islamist groups claimed involvement in the campaign against Sadad. One resident told Human Rights Watch that during an attack on his family by one of the groups, one of its members declared, “We kill Christians.”
According to international humanitarian law, the intentional vandalizing of religious buildings during armed war and the use of human shields constitutes war crimes. Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
NGOs report that when Islamist-dominated opposition groups take control of towns and villages, Christians face a particularly severe threat. Analysts estimate that of the approximately 100,000 armed opposition fighters, more than two thirds are Islamists, and around 10,000 are jihadists from outside Syria.
Father, protect us from both indifference and despair as we are barraged with news reports on the civil war in Syria. Help us to pray faithfully. We pray that You would use the international community to bring peace to this nation. We pray for our fellow Christians in Syria that they would remain firm in their faith, and that they would be kept safe from attacks. As we consider their faithful compassion for neighbors in the midst of their own suffering, we pray that You would provide food and shelter, for them and for those to whom they minister. We pray for those who do not yet know You, that they would see in Christians the glorious presence of Christ, and that they would be drawn into faith. And we pray for the nation of Syria, that it would turn from spiritual darkness and become a beacon of hope in the world, praising the name of Christ. In the name of Jesus, who strengthes us to pray and serve Him in all our circumstances. Amen.
Source: World Watch Monitor