In the area of Latakia, Tartus and Tal khalakh, and in the "Valley of the Christians", "there is chaos: Islamist militias and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation of general instability. The Christian civilians are kidnapped and targeted by armed groups who have fundamentalist ideology": this is the alarm raised by His Excellence Mgr. Elias Sleiman, Maronite Bishop of Latakia who, in a note, expresses strong concerns about the fate of the Christian population of Syria. "Christians, one tenth of the Syrian population - remarks the Bishop - do not stand up against one or the other faction fighting, but just want peace, dialogue and reconstruction of the country. For our faith we do not believe in violence, but in reconciliation. Now we fear greatly the radical Islamists: there are many fundamentalist mercenaries who want to alter the nature of the Syrian people and incite sectarian war."
|Destruction in the Syrian cities as fighting continues|
"The Christian faithful - he explains - even if threatened, do not take up arms because they do not want power. We want peace, not weapons, as pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lebanon." Expressing concern that Syria "will become another Iraq, with a mass exodus of the faithful," Mgr. Sleiman reiterates that "the Syrian Church, in its various forms and denominations, is in solidarity with those who want to remain in their own land." To this he adds, "we do a lot for refugees in the Valley of the Christians, Latakia, Tartus, who are more than 100 thousand. The Christian refugees had come here because it was more stable than in other areas where the fighting raged. But now the conflict has arrived here and there is no more stability, while chaos increases. Our land is a land of martyrs, we will not leave - the Bishop prophesies - even if we are or will be under pressure. We are strong in faith, in spite of the trials and will always try to be a factor of cohesion and a sign of reconciliation in the Syrian society, today and tomorrow, " he concludes.
About 150 thousand Christians live in fear in more than 40 villages in the so-called "Valley of the Christians" in western Syria. The valley ("Wadi al Nasara"), a historical stronghold of the Syrian Christians, mostly Greek Orthodoxs, received in recent months thousands of refugees from Homs and other cities and provinces. Today Christians are under Islamist militias fire who have settled in the Crusader fortress "Krak des Chevaliers", built in the eleventh century by a Muslim emir, rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers and today UNESCO world cultural heritage. For days the militias from the hill on which the fortress stands, have been firing nonstop against the villages below. In the area barricades were in fact erected by the regular Syrian army, militants’ target. The Christian civilians are "collateral victims" that are affected without any care! In recent days, a rain of fire hit the village of Howache, destroying several houses, killing three young Christians, injuring many civilians. The families of the village cry Iyad Salloum, 30, Fady Haddad, 34, while another young man died in the hospital of Our Lady of Hosn. And, in recent weeks, the Christian community in the valley had already counted nine other deaths. "Christians - a local priest reported the tragic situation - are very fragile and they want to be neutral, but today our valley is beset by violence and instability that confuse and frighten us. Violence covers and nullifies everything: we are not able to be instruments of dialogue and cohesion, as we want to be." The priest asks the warring parties to "not hit civilians gratuitously, to respect the neutrality of the Christians for their faith and identity, they want to be a factor of reconciliation."