01/28/2013, 00.00
LEBANON - SYRIA

Christians in Syria, targeted by Islamic extremists and bombs

by Simone Cantarini
Issam Bishara, head of the Syrian branch of the Papal agency that aids Catholic churches and the people of the Middle East (CNEWA) speaks: "The Christian way of life is at risk, and refugees in Lebanon are not entitled to help from the International community ". CNEWA and the local Church help over 4 thousand families who are victims of bombings, kidnappings and harassment by Islamic extremists.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Christians in Syria suffer like the rest of the population, Muslim, Alawite, Sunni. They, however, have one more problem: the spread of Islamic extremism, which threatens to turn the country into a new Iraq", says Issam Bishara, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)  for Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, speaking to AsiaNews. The official cited the cases of Homs and Qusayr, where the Islamists having taken control of the city, are driving Christian families from their homes.

He said that in the early months of the war, many families found refuge in the coastal cities of Syria, in what was once called the "Christian strip." However, the spread of war and the descent into the field of Islamic extremist brigades - particularly the al-Nousra militias - "these cities are now almost deserted, but there are thousands of families who have chosen or been forced to stay because of risks involved travelling to Lebanon. "

According to Bishara embargos means getting aid to the displaced is impossible. To face the emergency, CNEWA works in collaboration with the local Church. In addition to members of international organizations, religious orders and priests of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate are the only ones who can operate on the territory. Priests and religious people often face the drama of summary killings, abuses and kidnappings by foreign jihadists for funds, which mainly affect the Christian minority.

At present, the association helps about 3 thousand families: 300 in Tartous (coastal town west of the country) through the convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, 1000 in the valley of Wadi al Nasara, located to the west of the country and known as the Valley of Christians . They are under the protection of the greek-orthodox Patriarchate and the Catholic Church. In Homs, a stronghold of Sunni Muslims among the most ravaged by civil war, as many as 800 Orthodox and Catholic families remained in the city. To help these people, there are the Jesuits and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The number of Christian families still in the capital is about 600. they are felpe by the mission of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Greek-Catholic Patriarchate. Finally, in Hassake (northern Syria), the Society of St. Vincent de Paul takes care of about 1200 displaced Christians.

To 3 thousand families in Syria are added thousands of refugees, who, since the beginning of 2012 have chosen to flee the country, trying to cross the border with Lebanon. "In the beginning - says Bishara - they found refuge among relatives and friends, hoping for a quick return home." However, in recent months the situation has worsened. The hope of seeing their villages and their loved ones in Syria is increasingly small. "They - he says - are not eligible for aid because they reside outside of the refugee camps and their hosts can not keep them. What will become of these people in the coming months?".

The official said that so far CNEWA supports about 1,000 Christian famiglie who have fled to Lebanon, distributing clothes, hot meals and basic necessities. "Unfortunately - he explains - the demands are increasing day by day and we are the only ones to provide this type of service. Our fear is not being able to help all those who request it. Which is why we need the support of Western countries and all Catholics who want to help these people, behind which is the face of the suffering Christ. "

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