Islamist rebels are invading Christian communities in Syria – fighting to capture Aleppo’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of al-Syriaan al-Jaddie and al-Syriaan al-Qadime.
Reports from Middle East analysts say the battle for the Christian neighborhoods started last week.
Religious Freedom Coalition President William Murray said there’s a reason the Free Syrian Army chose to fight over the Christian neighborhoods.
“The Islamist rebels invaded Christian neighbors to force government troops to destroy homes there,” Murray said. “They want the government troops to shell the neighborhoods in an effort to recapture it.”
Murray said this is a familiar tactic.
“I have seen this tactic in the so-called West Bank during the Intifada,” he said. “Muslims would fire mortars from a Christian neighborhood to draw Israeli fire there. This is a win-win for the Islamist rebels supplied by Turkey. Syrian government troops can be fired on and Christian homes get destroyed.”
Although International Christian Concern Middle East analyst Aidan Clay said accurate information on Syria is limited, he’s confirmed the fighting in several Aleppo enclaves.
“Reports indicate that rebels have advanced into several central neighborhoods, including Christian areas, of Aleppo in recent weeks,” Clay said.
He said Aleppo is rapidly becoming a hub for rebel forces.
“Aleppo is now quickly becoming a stronghold for the opposition’s Free Syrian Army (FSA),” Clay said. “This has raised concerns among Christians living in the city.”
He continued, “While Syrians from every political, ethnic and religious background are suffering in the city, Christians have found themselves in a very unique and frightening situation, having widely chosen not to take up arms or to openly support either the rebels or the regime.”
Clay added that the opposition forces are comprised of more than ethnic Arabs.
“The FSA, which now controls most of Aleppo, is very diverse,” he explained. “Among rebel fighters and their supporters are many Syrians who truly desire free elections and other reforms that come with democracy.
“Yet, also among the FSA are extremist factions that are openly calling for an Islamic state ruled by Shariah. Even within the FSA there is division between many Arabs and minority Kurds who are fighting against the regime for different reasons. If Assad were to be deposed, the rebels’ common goal of overthrowing the regime will end and fighting will undoubtedly commence among rebel groups and within the FSA.”
The schism Clay talked about is already happening. Analysts report that a rift has developed between ethnic Kurds and the ethnic Arabs in the coalition to topple Bashir Assad’s government.
Clay added that there are also competing agendas among the various rebel factions. He said the various groups are speculating on how much freedom they will actually gain by overthrowing Assad.
“Kurds, Christians, Alawites and Shiites are asking themselves what rights they will be given when 75 percent of the population in Sunni,” he said. “It’s unlikely, to say the least, that reform under a Sunni-led government will be ‘democratic’ by any means.”
Clay also said Christians are experiencing the most hardship because they have the most to lose if Assad is overthrown.
“While many Christians have publicly denounced the brutality of President Assad and by no means support the regime, many Christians still desire greater freedoms and political reform to be enacted by the current government,” Clay said.
However, Christians’ hopes for reform are growing dim.
“That, of course, will never happen as Assad has chosen time and again to use brutal force in response to peaceful protests, killing thousands of civilians,” Clay said. “At the same time, however, most Christians see little hope in an alternative government which, they fear, will be led by Islamists who will hinder or outright abolish the religious freedoms long experienced by Christians in Syria.
“Due to ongoing violence and fears of radical Islamic factions, church leaders in Aleppo have reported that many Christians have already fled the city. According to Agence France-Presse, Syrian rebels have openly stated their goal of transforming Syria into an Islamic state while proclaiming that Christians have no connection to the country.
“Again, this view is not shared by all FSA fighters and supporters, but the idea is so prevalent that a large number of Christians are talking about leaving their homeland for good if Assad is ousted.”
Clay added that many Christians fear Aleppo will become like the already looted city of Homs.
“They vividly remember what happened in Homs earlier this year when most of the Christian community fled the city, often by force,” he said. “A similar story is beginning to unfold in Aleppo where there have been several bombings in Christian-majority neighborhoods, a few Christian kidnappings and an Armenian church that was reportedly set on fire by rebels on Monday.
“As Syria’s civil war continues without resolution, there is grave concern that Syrian Christians will follow the path of other ancient Christian communities throughout the Middle East: In Iraq, after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, more than half the Christian population – which witnessed more than 60 church bombings and hundreds of cases of Christians being murdered, raped and tortured – fled the country.”
Egypt’s Christian community has also experienced an increase in persecution. Clay cited the persecution numbers since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
“In Egypt, reports indicate that since March 2011, following the political rise of Islamic parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, at least 93,000 Christians have sought visas to Western countries,” he said. “Many Syrian Christians fear they are next, and some are already preparing to leave.”
Murray said rebels are already targeting Christian clergyman, and he cited the recent capture and murder of an Orthodox priest.
“The attacks on Aleppo are on the heels of the kidnapping and torture death of an Orthodox priest by the Islamist rebels just a few days ago,” Murray said.
He accused President Obama of being “100 percent behind the Islamists in this fight.”