By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Senior Mission Correspondent Dr. John M. Lindner and Stefan J. Bos
ALEPPO/DAMASCUS (BosNewsLife)– Minority Christians in Syria’s largest city Aleppo said Friday, December 7, they face starvation after dozens of believers already died in targeted attacks rocking Christian areas of the war-torn country.
“Bread isn’t found since last week, there is no wheat in the city and of course fuel is not available so…bakeries are not working,” said Majd Ajji, whose father runs a Baptist church in Aleppo, where airstrikes and gun battles transformed buildings into heaps of rubble.
Witnesses saw children fighting for food.
Most of the city, 310 kilometers (193 miles) northwest from capital Damascus, is now reportedly under rebel control but the situation remains tense, Ajji said in an email obtained by BosNewsLife.
“Fighting didn’t stop in the city,” Lebanon-based Ajji wrote on behalf of his father, Reverend Mouner Ajji, who remains in besieged Aleppo
Christian aid and advocacy group Open Doors said it received a letter from a Christian in Aleppo, claiming some hundred rebels invaded a Christian area and infiltrated a main street. “The Syrian army quickly retook the zone and no lives were lost,” it said.
Amid the tensions, “Aleppo is nearly for the third day without power electricity,” making it even more difficult to heat homes as winter sets in or to communicate with the outside world, said Ajji.
News about people facing starvation and bitter cold came after fresh reports that dozens of Christians have died in attacks since last week.
On November 28, twin deadly car bombs rocked the Christian and Druze areas in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, killing at least 38 people and injuring over 80, Christians said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Friday, December 7.
Earlier, on October 29, a bomb in Jaramana reportedly killed 11 people and wounded 69 others.
“Except for one victim, all belonged to the Christian part of the population,” explained well-informed Christian advocacy and aid group Open Doors.
On September 3 a car explosive took the lives of at least 5 residents in area, reports said.
Syrian Christians have expressed concern that armed opposition groups, who also include foreign and local Islamic militants, are behind the killings as the two religious communities have not joined the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The Damascus suburb of Jaramana, where the bombings took place, is reportedly known for its loyalty to President Assad, making it a potential target for rebels, though no group claimed responsibility, Christians said.
Christian aid workers have also expressed concern about reports of torture by Islamic militants who joined the opposition.
On October 25 a Greek Orthodox priest who tried to negotiate the liberation of a Christian doctor in Damascus province was found dead, residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The corpse of Fady Haddad, kidnapped…Friday (October 19) was found this morning in Damascus province,” said the well-informed Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Local residents claimed his eyes had been gauged out and his body mutilated in an atmosphere of hatred.
“Extremists went through the streets shouting ‘Alawites to the grave, Christians to Beirut’. They want to kick us out,”Catholic Charity ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ quoted Christians as saying.
A pastor, who often provided Haddad with Bibles and met him a few days before he was kidnapped reportedly said that “Father Fadi’s superiors had asked him why he kept traveling back and forth between Qatana and Damascus. He responded: ‘I cannot not serve Jesus, I need to help people, that is why I have to move around’.”
Many Christians in war zones have left their houses behind and are staying elsewhere with family- like their Muslim neighbors.
That is how much of the city of Homs became a ghost town. But 84-year old Elias Mansour refused to leave and on October 30, the war took his life. He was the last Christian in Homs, media reported.
Additionally, churches have been destroyed, battered or desecrated. “In Homs and Aleppo, and many other cities and towns, historical church buildings have been damaged as a result of the war,” Open Doors said.
Local Christians say they are in the crossfire, with especially Islamic militants viewing them as traitors, while Syria’s army pressures them to take a clear stand in the conflict.
Secondly many Syrian Christians are relatively prosperous and considered to have family in the West – making them an attractive objective for kidnapping for money, according to rights activists.
“In the case of an Assyrian Christian from the Aleppo area, his family paid a lot of money before he was dropped off in a deserted area, alive but in shock,” Open Doors recalled.
With most Christians reportedly refusing to take up arms and security forces leaving the area, life can be dangerous for Christian workers.
On July 19, Staefo Malke was trying to make some extra money for his family as a taxi driver.
When several men got into his car and started arguing about the deal they wanted to make with him, a row started. Knowing he was a Christian and not protected by any police or armed group, they shot him dead on the spot, Dutch media said.
“The same principle may have been applied on September 25” when up to 240 unarmed Greek-Catholics “were kidnapped from their village of Rableh, and released the next day,” Open Doors claimed.
The family of at least one Assyrian Christian from the Aleppo area a huge ransom, before he was dropped off in a deserted area, “alive but in shock,” local Christians said.
He and his wife and children then joined the 400,000 plus refugees from Syria, according to latest figures from the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, including at least 150,000 in Turkey.
Christian aid workers say however that especially Christian families, who are afraid to register themselves with the U.N. refugee agency, face extreme cold and hunger.
Barnabas Fund, an aid group working in especially Islamic nations, said it is providing heaters and blankets for displaced Christian families to help them survive the impending bitter weather.”
The cold, “poses an additional threat to vulnerable Syrian Christians In the last week, we have sent funds for 1,500 heaters and 3,750 blankets, which our partners on the ground will distribute to the most vulnerable Christians,” both in Syria and neighboring countries, it said.
“The cold is yet another threat to the besieged Christian community, many of whom have been driven from their homes by the violence and lost their income in a country that is increasingly hostile to their presence.”
Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife that it was also trying to meet other needs, including for food, milk for babies and medicines.
“A committee comprising representatives from all Christian groups in Syria and Lebanon is distributing aid from Barnabas Fund to those trapped in the war-torn country as well as those who have fled across the border,” it said, adding that more donations were urgently needed.
At least 40,000 people are believed to have died in the Syrian conflict amid U.S. concerns President Assad may plan to use chemical weapons.
American President Barack Obama warned Assad he would face “consequences” is he uses those weapons of mass destruction.
However the United Nations Security Council has so far been unable to agree on military intervention, due mainly to Russian and Chinese opposition to such a move.