Syrian President Bashar  al-Assad, Photo, AP

Bashar al-Assad (Photo credit: AP)

On April 15, 2018 Orthodoxy in Dialogue published the Joint Statement of the Patriarchs of Antioch on the civil war in Syria, and on April 27, 2018 the insightful Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Christians: What Should We Think? by Dr. Philip Dorroll and then associate editor Kari Edwards. From the vantage of their respective areas of study, Dorroll and Edwards separately address the widespread assumption that Bashar al-Assad is the protector of Syria’s Christians.

A year and a half later, on September 5, 2019, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released a 21-page report entitled Targeting Christian Places of Worship in Syria Is a Threat to World Heritage; The Syrian [Assad] Regime Bears Primary Responsibility for 61% of the Targeting of Christian Places of Worship in Syria. The PDF of the report can be read and downloaded here.

For those who haven’t the time or inclination to read a 21-page report, Emily Jones has summarized it for CBN News, and included commentary from other sources, in her brief Assad Regime Named Number One Threat to Syria’s Christians After 120+ Churches Intentionally Attacked.

Jones writes:

As the death toll continues to climb in Syria’s bloody civil war, a lesser-known casualty recently came to light in a new report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) – churches and Christian places of worship. 

The watchdog group reports that President Bashar Al-Assad’s Regime and other major factions in the Syrian Civil War have intentionally damaged or destroyed at least 124 churches since the war began in 2011.

The ‘Main Threat’

Islamic terror groups, factions of the Armed Opposition, and other parties have all deliberately attacked churches, but SNHR analysts accuse Assad’s regime of being responsible for 61% of the assaults on churches  –  making the dictator one of the biggest threats to Syria’s Christian heritage.

These violations by the Assad regime include dropping bombs on civilian places of worship with no military headquarters or equipment nearby, turning places of worship into military headquarters, and repeated attacks on churches.

The deliberate destruction of houses of worship is a direct violation of international law, and according to the SNHR report, Assad’s forces have assaulted Christian churches seven-times more than ISIS has.

Islamic Extremism vs. a Dictator

SNHR chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany told reporters on Monday in a conference call that while Islamic extremists are targeting Christians simply because they are Christians, the Assad regime is targeting anyone who opposes his dictatorship.

Assad’s forces justify repeated attacks on churches by saying they were being used by opposition forces, Erica Hanichak of Americans for a Free Syria told reporters on Monday.

Ghany said Assad is the “main threat” to Christians because he has better weapons to use against their churches than any of the other parties fighting in the war.

The SNHR report contained photos of gaping holes left in church roofs, crumbling buildings, and shattered glass windows.

The report said that some churches suffered from multiple attacks. For example, the Church of the Lady of Peace in Homs was attacked seven times by the Syrian Regime, and the Church of Saint Takla in Damascus was attacked four times.

The Armed Opposition forces attacked the Roman Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus four times, along with churches in Aleppo in 2012 and 2013.

The report challenges Assad’s claims that he leads a secular government with a desire to protect and preserve Syria’s Christians and religious minorities.

“While the regime claims that it has not committed any violations and that it is keen on protecting the Syrian state and the rights of minorities, it has carried out qualitative operations in suppressing and terrorizing all those who sought political change and reform, regardless of religion or race, and of whether this causes the destruction of the heritage of Syria and the displacement of its minorities,” said Ghany on Monday.

The Dilemma Among Christians

Despite accusations of war crimes, there are those – among them many Christians – who support Assad’s rule. One big reason is that they do not see a better option for Syria any time soon.

“The big fear of the Christians—the majority—is if he  [Assad]  goes, who will come in? And that is the big, big fear,” Bishop Nicholas James Samra of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton told the Catholic News Agency.

Continue reading Ms. Jones’ article at CBN News.
Read SNHR’s original report here.

Emily Jones is a multi-media journalist for CBN News in Jerusalem. Before she moved to the Middle East in 2019, she spent years regularly traveling to the region to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meet with government officials, and raise awareness about Christian persecution. Read her complete bio here.

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