Rebels have threatened to storm two predominantly Christian towns in
central Syria, saying regime forces are using them to attack nearby
areas, an activist group said Saturday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that one
rebel group has issued an ultimatum to the towns of Mahrada and
Sqailbiyeh in the province of Hama.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said some Christians and
Alawis have also left Hama province in the past several days to escape
violence. He said some of them found shelter in the coastal city of Tartus.
A video released by rebels showed Rashid Abul-Fidaa, who identified
himself as the Hama commander of the Ansar Brigade, calls on residents
to “evict” regime forces or be attacked.
“Assad’s gangs in the cities are shelling our villages with mortars and
rockets destroying our homes, killing our children and displacing our
people,” said Abdul-Fidaa, who wore an Islamic headband and was
surrounded by gunmen. “You should perform your duty by evicting Assad’s
gangs,” he said. “Otherwise our warriors will storm the hideouts of the
He accused regime forces of taking positions in the two towns in order
to “incite sectarian strife” between Christians and the predominantly
Sunni opposition. Assad belongs to the Alawi minority sect, an off-shoot
of Shiite Islam.
Mahrada was the hometown of Ignatius Hazim, the former Patriarch of the
Damascus-based Eastern Orthodox Church who passed away on December 5 at
the age of 92.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, say they
are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22
million people. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq,
with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Islamic groups.
The conflict started 21 months ago as an uprising against Assad, whose
family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly morphed into a
civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a bloody
crackdown by the government. According to activists, more than 40,000
people have been killed since March 2011.
Clashes between troops and rebels in the central city of Homs, Syria’s
third largest, have already displaced tens of thousands of Christians,
most of whom either fled to the relatively safe coastal areas or to
The new Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna Yaziji, who replaced Hazim,
told reporters in the capital Damascus Saturday that the church is
“deeply-rooted in Syria.” He added that Christians in Syria are not part
of the conflict and will continue to coexist with people of the region
urging rival Syrian factions to negotiate a settlement through dialogue.
“We are staying here and this is our land,” he said.
Russia’s foreign minister, meanwhile, said that Damascus has
consolidated its chemical weapons into one or two locations to protect
them from a rebel onslaught.
US intelligence officials have said the regime may be readying chemical
weapons and could be desperate enough to use them, while also expressing
concerns they could fall into militant hands if the regime crumbles.
OIC censures anti-Syria rebels’ threats against Christians
The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has strongly condemned
threats made by foreign-sponsored militants against two Syrian Christian
towns, warning of a fresh wave of violence in the country.
“Such threats are contrary to the precepts of Islam which calls for
tolerance, brotherhood and peace,” the 57-member body said in a
statement on Sunday, AFP reported.
In a video message released on Saturday, Syrian armed groups threatened
to attack Mharda and Sqilbiya towns in the central province of Hama if
the residents do not expel government forces.
The OIC warned against the risks of “a slide into confessional conflict.”
Rashid Abul Fida, the head of the al-Ansar Brigade in Hama, made the threat.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people,
including large numbers of security forces, have been killed in the
A recent UN report has revealed that militants from 29 countries have so
far infiltrated into Syria to fight against the Damascus government,
most of whom are extremist Salafists.
The Syrian government says certain Western states, especially the United
States, and their regional allies are fueling the unrest.