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Thousands of Christians flee Syrian city...

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Thousands of Christians flee Syrian city amid “ultimatum” reports

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Syria

Thousands of Christians have fled the besieged Syrian city of al-Qusair after reportedly being given an ultimatum to leave by an opposition military chief there, a threat echoed by the mosques.

Most of the western city’s Christian residents have left, and some of the mosques in al-Qusair are said to have given last week the thousand or so who remain a deadline to vacate. Two Christian leaders, who were among those fleeing the city, said that they heard the following message from the minarets: “Christians must leave al-Qusair within six days, ending Friday (8 June).” 

Damage-in-Qusayr-Syria_4X3.jpg
al-Qusair has been heavily damaged
in the fighting
CC BY 2.0 / FreedomHouse

An earlier ultimatum had allegedly been issued by a military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba. Local sources said that Islamic extremists within the opposition consider Christians “infidels”, confiscate their belongings and carry out mass executions.

Opponents of the government have denied ordering Christians out of al-Qusair. In a statement said to be from the rebel leadership in the city, issued on Monday (11 June), they said that they had “lived together with our beloved Christian brothers and sisters for decades, working together and living alongside one another”.

They added that most of the Christian families, along with Muslim families, had fled al-Qusair around two months ago owing to shelling by government militia.

The city is an extremely dangerous place for those who remain. A church minister, Atallah Ibrahim Bitar, was shot dead while reportedly taking food to people forced into hiding by a week-long bombardment.   

Al-Qusair, which is around 15 miles from another key battleground of Homs, has been the site of intense clashes between President Assad’s troops and opposition forces for months. Almost the entirety of the 50,000-60,000 Christian population of Homs has fled as a result of heavy fighting there.

Christians from al-Qusair have gone to nearby villages or to stay with relatives and friends in the capital, Damascus.

Whether or not they were ordered out, it is clear that they no longer felt safe in their homes, and like their counterparts in Homs, have been forced to flee as a result of the ongoing conflict.

On Tuesday (12 June), the UN’s head of peacekeeping said that Syria was in a state of civil war – the first time a UN official has used this term to describe the conflict.

Christians are particularly vulnerable in anti-government strongholds because they are assumed to be supporters of President Assad, having enjoyed considerable freedom under his regime.

Barnabas Aid has been helping Christians affected by the unrest in Syria since the start of the conflict. We are providing food, medicine and other essentials to the neediest families.

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  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Lift up to the Lord persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka, where at least 65 anti-Christian incidents took place during 2013, including repeat attacks on several believers and their property in October 2013. However, a Sri Lankan government minister from a Buddhist nationalist party denied the accounts, saying that they might be “made up”. The minister claimed that Sri Lankans are “one family … trying to live together after a long civil war”. Pray that the Sri Lankan government will recognise the danger that our brothers and sisters face from militant Buddhists and that the authorities will provide effective protection for vulnerable Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

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