Thousands return to Syrian town they were forced to flee

June 25, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Thousands of Syrian Christians who were driven out of their homes in al-Qusair last year have returned after government forces recaptured the town in a fierce battle against the rebels.

Buildings in the centre of al-Qusair have been damaged or destroyedSyria, June 18, 2013: Following al-Qusair’s occupation by opposition troops, Christians reported hearing last June from the minarets, “Christians must leave al-Qusair within six days”, prompting them to flee.

They were among the first to return earlier this month after the Syrian government defeated the rebels following an intense three-week battle. Fighting had driven out most of the town’s 40,000 plus residents, of whom Christians comprise around ten per cent.

They had fled to surrounding villages and the capital, Damascus. Returning to a scene of almost total destruction, many of them have lost everything; their homes and churches are severely damaged or in ruins. The authorities have vowed to rebuild the town and restore services.

One church in the centre of al-Qusair had been defaced with anti-Christian graffiti, including chilling statements such as:

The religion of our master will be victorious against all tyrants.

Muslim and Christian residents of al-Qusair insisted that they had lived peaceably alongside one another before the war and blamed the rebels for sowing sectarian discord.

The battle for al-Qusair has been seen as a crucial one in terms of the balance of power between the government and the rebels. The town’s return to government control has been described by the Assad regime as a “turning point” in the civil war; it follows a number of battlefield victories for the government.
With the opposition appearing weakened, they were boosted on Friday (14 June) by an announcement by the US that it will, for the first time, give them direct military aid.

This comes despite warnings from United Nations investigators that the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is becoming increasingly radicalised, with only a minority wanting a democratic state. It is now well known that al-Qaeda is operating among their ranks.

The brutal execution of a 14-year-old boy in Aleppo by rebel fighters from al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has heightened such concerns.

Rebel groups have set up their own justice systems, enforcing sharia-based rulings, in some areas under their control.Muhammad al-Qatta, a coffee seller, was shot dead in front of his parents on 9 June. Two rebels accused him of blasphemy after they demanded a free cup of coffee and he refused, saying, “Even Muhammad himself would have done the right thing and paid.”

A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria said that the teenager deserved to die. The incident has shocked both local and international observers.

A senior Christian leader in Aleppo said that the Islamist militias have taken over the mosques and use Friday sermons to stir up hatred, calling for the killing of anyone who does not follow Islam.

He added:

Christians are terrified by these militias and fear that in the event of their victory they would no longer be able to practise their religion and that they would be forced to leave the country.

– barnabas team

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