Al-Qusair (AsiaNews) - After fleeing to surrounding villages and the
capital Damascus, Christians from al-Qusair are returning to their homes after
almost two years. Many have lost everything; some have started to remove rubble
from rooms and rebuild roofs, bringing life back to a city that in recent
months had lost more than 90 per cent of its population, going from 30,000
inhabitants to 500.
Sources told AsiaNews that in
2011 more than 3,000 Christians fled the city seeking refuge with relatives and
friends. In recent months, the only non-Muslim residents was elderly Catholic
couple, husband and wife. "The couple," they said, "did not know where to
run. Their only daughter is a Melkite nun, who resides abroad. They were helped
by their Muslim neighbours."
Media reports describe Syria as a place devastated by the conflict
between Shias and Sunnis, which has also affected Christians. However, for sources
the country was really devastated by outside forces, which have taken advantage
of the instability and peaceful uprisings of 2011 to pursue their political and
ideological agendas, which reached a peak with the intervention of Hizbollah,
the Lebanese Shia paramilitary movement, fighting alongside the Syrian army.
Located on the border with Lebanon, al-Qusair was one of the first
cities to organise pro-democracy demonstrations against the Assad regime and
later set up a national committee to prevent clashes between religious
"These committees," sources told AsiaNews, "saved several villages and towns, preserving them from the
wave of Islamic extremism that has been causing destruction in the past few
months in Aleppo and other towns in the country."
"In al-Qusair," they explain, "churches and mosques were built next
to each other." An example is the shrine of St Elijah, which was recently desecrated
by foreign Islamists, after surviving the fighting between local rebels and the
army, who have always respected places of worship.
The outrage caused by the al-Nusra militia, which has fighters from 15
nations in its ranks, has aroused the anger of the population.
"It's a big shock to see something like this in a church," Osama Hassan,
a Muslim and a government employee, told Reuters.
"For us, a church is the same as a mosque."
A nearby mosque was also heavily damaged, parts of its minaret blasted
away, he added.
For locals, Islamist fighters are to blame for sectarian divisions in
the population, which includes Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as Christians.
"Here, the Christian and Muslim cemeteries are right next to each
other," said one resident. "We never had divisions." (S.C.)