By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Islamic militants with ties to terror group al-Qaida have launched the “ethnic cleansing of minority Christians” in Syria, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the embattled Syrian city of Homs and other areas, aid workers confirmed Tuesday, March 27.
At least 90 percent of Christians living in Homs have fled after “fanatics” forced them to leave their homes, said Dutch aid group ‘Kerk in Nood’, or ‘Church in Need’.
It added that the exodus of 50,000 people mainly took place in the last six weeks. “They have fled to villages and in the mountains, sometimes as far as 50 kilometers from their homes. We have reports that Islamists ‘cleansed’ the Homs areas of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan without giving [Christians] the opportunity to take anything with them,” the group told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Kerk in Nood said it has already made available some 80,000 euro ($107,000) for supporting the most vulnerable families, including survivors of last week’s car bomb near a church in the city of Aleppo, that authorities claimed killed at least two people and injured 30 others.
Aid workers said the attack happened near the Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure in the area.
Aleppo Bishop Antoine Audo, who supervises the aid program, said people not receiving support fear for their lives. “They don’t know what will be their future,” he said in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife.
“They are afraid that they will not receive back their homes. It’s of utmost importance that we help these people,” the bishop added.
Earlier, aid group Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife that Christians have also been used as “human-shields” by anti-government rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army, to prevent government forces from retaking control over the region.
The Free Syrian Army blames President Bashar Assad for the situation. Christians, like other Syrian minorities, have been viewed by critics as supportive of Assad, a member of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Minorities reportedly fear an Islamist takeover should armed rebels, mostly from the nation’s Sunni Muslim majority, manage to overthrow Assad.
Kerk in Nood said there is growing fear that Syria will turn into “a second Iraq” with a similar pattern of attacks against churches, and expulsion or kidnappings of Christians.
“As attacks continue, Syria could experience the same fate as [neighboring] Iraq where the number of Christians living there dwindled from as many as 1.4 million at the end of the 1980s to less than 300,000 now,” the group explained.
The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the yearlong conflict between government forces and rebels seeking the overthrow of Assad’s regime.
Christians say that the crisis in especially Homs has raised fears that Islamists with ties to al-Qaida will use the power vacuum left by the other regimes in the Middle East, when they were forced out by protests that became known as the “Arab Spring”.