BEIRUT — Christians in Syria say they are coming under increasing pressure to choose sides in the 18-month-old civil war that has engulfed their country, as Syria’s foreign minister, in a speech Monday, accused some members of the U.N. Security Council of supporting “terrorism.”
“[Both sides] want us in this war,” said Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar, whose congregation in the Christian quarter of the capital, Damascus, said it can’t trust the government or the rebels.
“We can hear bombing and gunfire, but we don’t know who is shooting,” Archbishop Nassar said. “[The regime] thinks if all minorities get together, they can stop the majority. But some Christians think [the opposition is] the democratic way. We have to follow the majority.”
Christians constitute about 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million people, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.
However, Syria is controlled by President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. So Christians share many of the same grievances as Sunni Muslims, who account for the bulk of the opposition.
Many Christians were outraged by the regime’s brutal response to what began last year as peaceful calls for reform. Yet they have been reluctant to speak out, acutely aware of their relative security under the authoritarian but secular Assad regime.
Now they fear being marginalized or even targeted as have Christian communities in Egypt in the wake of that country’s revolution last year.
The Assad regime’s consistent portrayal of the opposition as terrorists set on turning Syria into an Islamist state, where minority ethnic and religious groups would face persecution or exodus, encourages such fears.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the regime’s efforts to end the war will fail unless Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and others stop arming and financing the opposition and instead “encourage dialogue and renounce violence,” the Associated Press reported.
Mr. al-Moallem said the Assad regime is confronting myriad conspiracies by internal and external forces determined to end its 40-year rule, and accused forces as diverse as the media and international aid groups of attempting to destabilize the country.
“This terrorism, which is externally supported, is accompanied by unprecedented media provocation based on igniting religious extremism sponsored by well-known states in the region,” he said, adding that those states “facilitate the flow of arms, money and fighters through the borders of some neighboring countries.”
These forces are “fabricating a refugee crisis,” he said, and “inciting armed groups to intimidate Syrian civilians in border areas and forcing them to flee” to neighboring countries, including Turkey, which says it is hosting nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees, the AP reported.
More than 40 Christian families, mostly from the town of Rableh in western Syria, have sought refuge from the conflict in the Lebanese village of Qaa, close to the Syrian border.
George Khouri, a father of four, fled Rableh with his 82-year-old mother, terrified by the sounds of nearby bombardments.