Damascus (AsiaNews) – The battle in Homs continues, between the army and the military forces rebelling against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after the visit to Damascus of the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Assad had promised the head of Russian diplomacy that he would move towards a cessation of violence, and towards national dialogue.
The fate of President Assad ''will be decided by the Syrians,'' said Lavrov, who defined as ''illogical'' the decision of some countries, including Italy, to recall their ambassadors from Damascus. ''I do not believe", he said, "that the recall of ambassadors will create favourable conditions for the implementation of the initiative of the Arab League". On 4 February Russia and China vetoed a condemnation of Damascus by the UN Security Council. Since then, international diplomacy has been looking for new ways to resolve the crisis, while there are rumours and denials about the possibility that the United States is beginning to consider military intervention.
However, the internal situation is showing signs of a growing confessional radicalization, as evidenced by AsiaNews' sources, who remain anonymous for reasons of security. Rumors depict a different situation than the one prevailing in the mass media, showing how violence against the population is being used by both sides in the conflict.
"At Homs, two young men of Azer were killed, both family men. Not by the army. Their only fault, to earn money and to help neighbors cope with the situation, was that of going to the bakery to buy bread for those too afraid to leave their homes. They were in fact killed while they were at the bakery. Others were killed just because they were working in their shop, without heeding the city's paralysis wanted by the rioters". The opposition and many countries, both Arab and non, are demanding the regime withdraw its tanks from the streets. Here is the testimony of some living in Syria: "The last time I returned from Aleppo, in early December, because after that we no longer dared to go by car to Aleppo, it was the tanks that allowed us to make the journey; they lined up in two rows, creating a corridor in the midst of the shooting, where all the cars, buses, etc. passed, seeing through their rear window the red lights of the exploding shots...If the army hadn't been there, controlling things, nobody would use the highways ...This doesn't mean there hasn't been violence by the army, there has been and there is sure to be; it's not a matter of being naive."
In Homs, sources of AsiaNews say, Christians are now targeted by Sunni insurgents, as are the Alawis. And the rebels spare no one: in Tartous, for example, one Christian recounts that "yesterday my three nephews, my brother's sons, were killed in Homs, in their workshop, just because they were repairing a police car". And the situation, which is grave for Christians, appears increasingly fractured between Sunnis and Alawis, the confession of the Assad family. Sunnis are afraid to cross through Alawi villages, and vice versa. And there are areas where the power of the two forces alternates, creating a situation of constant fear in the population.
Other local sources not linked to the regime criticise the representation of the situation offered by the international media. "Our vision is gradually becoming clearer: it is tunneling through the impregnable wall of disinformation. The reality is not the duality shown to us by the media. It is complex. Will there still be a place for Syrian Christians in the destabilization that has been started by this composite society? Will the fate of Syria be based on that of Iraq? We do not know". This is what is stated on the website of the monastery of Saint Jacques le Mutilé, in Syria.
And according to the religious, who follow the situation's developments closely, the Christians of Homs, Hama and Yabroud "are well integrated into the social fabric." But there is a change: "The conflict underway has been transformed from a popular revindication of freedom and democracy into an Islamist revolution. On Friday, 20 January, the fateful slogan was pronounced by the coordinating committees of the revolution: 'The people want to declare Jihad!' Until today, we Christians have not been subject to "direct" persecution. Christians have been victims of the violence that has affected the entire population participating in civilian life. Today it seems that the facts are changing. As if the trend that had been latent has become obvious. The future will tell. The fact remains that the events we're bringing to your attention are assaults which are now of an openly anti-Christian nature".
On January 25 Fr. Basilios Nassar, the Greek Orthodox parish priest of the village of Kafarbohom, in the province of Hama, was killed by some insurgents while helping a man who had been attacked by insurgents in Hama's Jarajima Street. On 24 January the son of the Islamist emir of Yabroud, Khadra, waited in the street, together with three other armed men, for the Christian major Zafer Karam Issa, 30, married for a year, outside his home. They killed him, riddling his body with a hundred rounds of gunfire, and then fled. This week, the young Christian Khairo Kassouha, 24, was also killed, while leaving his house in Kusayr.
Fr. Mayas Abboud, rector of the small seminary of Greek Catholics in Damascus, told us that he was contacted yesterday by the widow of the martyr Nidal Arbache, a taxi driver recently killed by insurgents. Dalal Louis Arbache told him over the phone: "Dear father, here in Kusayr we're exposed to bullying by insurgents who dictate the law. We expect all sorts of violence. We have nothing and no one to protect us. I beg you father, consider this my testament. If something bad should happen to me, I entrust my son to you, take care of him. Our whole family is threatened by armed gangs".
They also tell us that André Arbache, the husband of Virginie Louis Arbache, was kidnapped last week. Nothing is known of him. His family fears the worst.
Again in Kusayr, a cousin of Fr. Louka, parish priest of Nebek, tells us this story: "I was coming back to Kusayr, when I was checked by insurgents at a roundabout in the city. They asked me for my documents and made me wait for two hours to see if my name was on the lists issued by the coordinating committees of the revolution, which have now become pseudo-judicial organs. If my name was found, I would have been killed on the spot, as they do with others”.
In Homs the governor's list is getting longer. More than 230 Christians have been killed. Many have been kidnapped. Often the insurgents demand a ransom, ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 dollars per person.
In some quarters, such as Bab Sbah or Hamidiyeh in Homs, 80% of the Christian inhabitants have left and settled in with friends or relatives in the regions of the Valley of the Christians. The Christians of Hama and its province are doing the same. The phenomenon is gradual and relentless.
It should be remembered that mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, in full harmony with the community of the monastery, has in the past weeks helped the opposition of the village besieged by the army, getting the military to respect the population's freedom of movement; she has started an operation for the liberation of the common law prisoners detained without trial; she allowed members of the opposition to take refuge in the monastery for a secret meeting, during which a manifesto was promoted for national dialogue, which was taken up by the President of the Republic; she accepted the request of the UCIP-Lebanon to send Catholic journalists. This group was the first in the world to report that the civilian population is being targeted by violence coming not only from the regime. Their having reported this has sparked serious accusations against mother Agnès-Mariam, which haven't yet been settled. The community is proud of being persecuted for having helped to shed light on these gloomy aspects of the shadow wars, and for continuing to provide the lists of real deaths, in contrast to the false death lists disclosed by the Syrian Observatory for human rights. Mother Agnès has visited, at the risk of her life, the neighborhoods of the opposition in the city of Homs and in the village of Kusayr. And has launched a campaign to aid the families affected in Homs and Kusayr. She has hosted people and families left without a home, and has gathered abandoned children.