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“They want Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb,” he said, quoting a slogan he said everyone in Rableh knows, though he acknowledged that he had never heard it from rebels firsthand.

Such fears have led many of Syria’s Christians to support the regime — or at least keep silent about the issue.

Despite this, a significant number of Christians have aligned with the opposition, leading to a division in the community.

“Some of the most vocal and outspoken with the opposition [have been] Christians,” said George Stifo, a spokesman for the U.S.-based Syrian Christians for Democracy and a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. “We wanted to unify the voice of Syrian Christians supporting the revolution.

“We had a lot of people protesting, we had a lot in jail,” Mr. Stifo said.

Hadeel Kouki, 20, a Christian activist studying at the University of Aleppo, was imprisoned for more than 50 days and tortured after she was arrested once for distributing pro-democracy fliers and twice for joining demonstrations.

“This regime under no terms could be considered as a protector of minority rights or of Christians,” said Ms. Kouki, speaking this year at the Christian Lebanese Forces Disbanding Memorial in Lebanon.

Ms. Kouki said the regime deliberately stokes fears of a hard-line Islamic opposition to create sectarian divisions among Syrians and deter minorities from joining the revolution. She also accuses Christian leaders of failing to speak out.

“None of the Christian figures or leaders asked for us when we were being tortured or beaten in Assad’s prisons,” she said. “Why didn’t you stand by us?”

Still, Christian leaders in neighboring countries express fear for the survival of Christian minorities as the political landscape of the Middle East undergoes such dramatic change.

“We [would] like to have a renewal of the regime, more democracy, but the project of the revolution is not clear at all,” said the Rev. Paul Karam, head of the Pontifical Mission for the region in Lebanon. “What will be the result?”

Terms of reconciliation

Though some fear what may come after the fall of the Assad regime, they say uncertainty is why Christians need to play an active role in shaping the country’s future.

Others say Christians — caught in the middle — can play only a mediating role.

Mother Agnes Mariam, a Melkite nun in Homs, is a spokeswoman for the Mussalaha Reconciliation Initiative, which promotes a “third way” through peaceful dialogue. She said Christians can be “a credible voice for a peaceful resolution” in the conflict and a “bridge” between the opposing sides.

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