Damascus (AsiaNews) - Fr Frans Van der Lugt (pictured) was killed this morning in Homs, a rebel-held city under siege from government forces. The 75-year-old Jesuit priest had lived in Syria for 50 years.
In a statement, the Jesuit Curia of the Provinces of the Near East and the Maghreb reported that the clergyman "was abducted by armed men who beat him and then executed him with two bullets to the head" in front of the Jesuit residence in Homs.
The latter had become a refuge for many people whose homes had been destroyed by incessant shelling and bombing during two years of siege, and a place where they could share some of the food and water left in the city.
In February, AsiaNews had posted his appeal on behalf of the people of Homs, who were suffering from hunger and mental anguish resulting from bombing, shelling, insecurity and lack of medicines.
The siege and continued shelling in the city had reduced the Christian community from 60,000 to just 66, the Dutch priest said.
Fr Van of the Lugt never tried to leave Homs. In an interview a few months ago, he had said: "The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties."
The reasons for the attack remain unclear. Some sources told AsiaNews that the clergyman was involved in mediation between the rebels and the army to save the people of Homs.
The Jesuit priest had come to Syria in 1966 after studying Arabic for two years in Lebanon.
Fr Frans van der Lugt stayed in Homs even when 1,400 people were able to leave the city thanks to an UN-mediated truce and food and water were brought in.
A few days before the truce, the priest had posted a video describing the dramatic situation of the people of Homs.
In it, he could be heard saying, "We, Christians and Muslims, live in difficult and painful conditions; we especially suffer from hunger. We love life and we do not want to die or drown in an ocean of death and suffering."
A yellow sign next to him read: "Starvation is more painful than dying of chemical weapons."