Alawites spurned by rebels in Syria

Crisis raises fears of religious strife

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“We are convinced that if the regime implodes, there will be wide-scale massacres of the Alawi people and of Christians, too,” said Sheik Ali Yeral, a Turkish Alawite religious leader in the village of Ekinci, not far from the Syrian border.

He said Syrian protesters have chanted: “Christians to Beirut. Alawites to the grave.”

Opposition leaders have tried to reassure minorities that a post-Assad Syria would be democratic and religiously tolerant, but analysts are skeptical.

“The reality is that developments on the ground will determine what will happen, in particular as the armed struggle escalates,” Mr. Gerges said.

“I think the worst-case scenario is if Syria turns into all-out sectarian strife whereby neighbor turns against neighbor and village against village,” he said. “This is the nightmare scenario.”

Others see signs that the rebels are becoming Islamist.

“The revolution is becoming an Islamic one,” said Mr. Abboud, who insists that he firmly supports the opposition, even though the rebels rejected him.

“It’s not an Alawi misconception about revenge anymore. It’s what some of the rebels claim themselves. The regime always said, ‘You will cry for us one day.’ We laughed, but now I’m beginning to believe them.”

Louise Osborne in Berlin contributed to this report.

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