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By BosNewsLife Middle East Service

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Christians are in the crossfire in Syria, report says.



DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)-- At least four people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a Christian area of the Syrian capital Friday, June 28,  amid warnings from investigators that the country's minority Christians are becoming victims of "disproportionate violence and abuse" in a war that has claimed as many as 100,000 lives.

Syrian state media claimed the "terrorist" bomber struck near a church of an order of the Maronite church in Damascus, killing four people and wounding four others.

Observers said the word "terrorist" referred to one or more rebels involved in these and other actions to undermine the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad

In a statement, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the death toll and said the bomber "detonated his explosives near the Mariamite church" of the Maronite Order, a monastic order in the Levantine Catholic Maronite Church.

The same group also spoke of shelling in nearby Al-Amin Street, also in old Damascus, but it was not immediately clear whether people had been killed or injured in those attacks. French News Agency AFP quoted another Observatory statement as saying that
the bodies of 16 men who died under torture at the hands of Syria's security forces had been handed to their families.

DAMASCUS STRONGHOLDS

It said the men had been from Harasta, one of a number of rebel strongholds near Damascus "that have come under immense army pressure in recent weeks, as the regime has pressed a campaign" to secure the capital.

News of the violence came as Open Doors International, a respected Christian aid and advocacy group, said in a report that Syrian Christians are the victims of "disproportionate violence and abuse as sectarian violence continues to engulf Syria."

The report 'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians' said Christian women are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, while Christian men "are facing pressure from both sides to join the battle."

Christians are "caught in the crossfire of the strife between government and opposition forces and suffer violence from both parties," said Dennis Pastoor, who coordinates the group's annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it says Christians suffer most for their faith.

FORCES "ISLAMIZED"

The report, seen by BosNewsLife, notes that more than two years since the outbreak of civil war between President al-Assad’s government troops and Free Syrian Army rebels, the opposition forces are increasingly "Islamized”.

Amid the violence, Christians are scared to engage in public displays of worship, according to rights investigators.

Additionally, proportionally more Christian refugees are leaving Syria than any other religious or ethnic group, the report said.

Thousands of Christians are among the 1.6 million Syrians, including more than 800,000 children, who sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, according to UN and other estimates.

BLEAK FUTURE

With the growing influence of Islamists, the report warned of a bleak future for all Syrians, especially Christians, whoever wins the battle for Syria.

"Christians face the prospect of never being able to return to their homes and businesses, or of returning to a civil order that is less pluralistic and accepting of minority rights than before the war," added political commentator Nicholas Heras, who provided analyse for the Open Doors report.

'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians' predicts several possible outcomes to the conflict, including the eventual overthrow of the government by opposition forces “dominated by Islamists”.

However it warned that "continued sectarian violence" would continue anyway "due to the failure by opposition forces to completely destroy government forces and al-Assad’s supporters."

"WORST CASE SCENARIO"

Even if "the al-Assad regime prevails, violence" would "continue in the short-term," it claimed.

Another prospect feared by Christians is that opposition forces take complete control of Syria and form an Islamic state, something the report called the "worst-case scenario" for Syria’s Christians.

The report suggested there is slight chance that the the civil war continues but that the "sectarian element of the conflict is reduced", a view not shared by all observers monitoring the troubled conflict.

The Open Doors report acknowledged that current struggles facing Christians in Syria are shared by others, but it said they are often "soft targets" and "particularly vulnerable" to for instance hostility in refugee camps as well as "targeting by Islamist groups and criminals, and confiscation of land."

Earlier this week, the United Nations World Food Program warned that Syrians caught up in the war were cutting basic foods from their diets to save money, or begging to survive. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).

(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004). 

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