(Milan/e.p.) – As humanitarian organisations in Syria estimate that at least as many as 6,000 people were killed in the country last month, a Christian representative has warned of a mass exodus of Christians similar to that experienced in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.
Dr. Thomas Schirrmach, the World Evangelical Alliance’s human rights ambassador, warned that the aftermath of the Iraq War risks being repeated as Christians are being “chased from their homes”.
His comments come after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that of the fatalities recorded last month, 1,486 were insurgents, 1,464 were soldiers, and 2,080 were civilians including 300 children and 300 women. A further unidentified number of 387 civilians and 588 insurgents was also recorded.
Terrasanta.net received the following testimony April 4th from friars of the Custody of the Holy Land in Aleppo. Their comments confirm Dr. Schirrmach’s remarks and those of other reports, detailing how the residents of some districts of the city are being forced to flee their homes to escape the fury of the fighting between rebels and government forces.
“The bishop and our two fraternities were able to perform all the functions of Holy Week, including the Easter Vigil, with a large influx of the faithful,” the friars said. “But it was a real Passion Week for the Christian community of the city: on March 29, Good Friday, the rebels seized the neighborhood bordering our Christian cemeteries, setting it on fire. The villagers have had to flee quickly, with only the clothes they were wearing.”
The friars continued: “Among the displaced in that neighborhood are 350 Christian families. Also the population of the other two areas with a Christian majority had to flee their homes because they are exposed to mortars, rockets and snipers.”
“On the morning of Holy Saturday,” they went on, “the guard of our Latin cemetery, who had remained on duty, was killed by a sniper. They buried him there and then, without even the blessing of a priest. Now the cemeteries are unreachable, so four of the dead were buried in churches, and a girl in the garden of a nuns’ convent. For the moment, the [city] governor has made available a piece of land to bury our dead. “
The Franciscans added that from Holy Saturday, they have been without electricity and only use the generator for a few hours a day. “There is little water, and the telephone and the Internet work in fits and starts. We friars are well, and try to do our best to be a sign of hope among the frightened people who want to escape.”
According to the latest figures, between 20,000-30,000 Christians have fled Aleppo since the conflict began. The pre-war population was 160,000.
Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antonie Audo of Aleppo told news agency Ansa March 25th there must be a negotiated end to the civil war, but that would necessarily involve keeping Assad in power “at least until the next elections.”
He said the conflict in Syria is primarily sectarian, between the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority currently holding political power. The conflict has been aggravated by corruption and economic failure of the Assad regime.
He added that civic order had broken down in Syria’s second largest city because of the fighting, the economy has virtually collapsed, unemployment is 80%, and travel is dangerous.