Everyone in Syria, but especially its Christian population, is endangered by the growing surge of violence and atrocities perpetrated by the rebels who are challenging President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Catholic nun who has served community members in Syria for more than two decades.
Multiple reports have recently confirmed that the rebel forces opposing Assad are increasingly populated with hardcore Islamists, including groups with close ties to al-Qaida.
Among the areas of Syria that have found themselves in the Islamic rebels’ bull’s-eye has been the ancient city of Maaloula, where residents still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib, the mother superior of St. James Monastery in Qara who previously has served as a source of information for WND, describes the horrors to which she was witness. One was the threat from Muslims that Christians of Maaloula would be beheaded if they did not convert to Islam.
In a question-and-answer interview with RT recently, she voiced doubt about the validity of rebel statements protesting the Aug. 21 gas attack near Damascus and expressed outrage at the “massacre” of civilians by members of Jabhat al-Nusra, the most influential of the rebel groups fighting Assad.
“What I want to ask first of all is how the international community can ignore the brutal killing spree in Latakia on Laylat al-Qadr early in the morning of Aug. 5, an attack that affected more than 500 people, including children, women and the elderly. They were all slaughtered. The atrocities committed exceed any scale. But there was close to nothing about it in the international mass media.”
The attacks included a dozen villages, she said, mostly occupied by members of the Alawite clan, an offshoot of Islam to which Assad belongs.
“That was a true slaughterhouse,” she continued. “There is even a video that shows a girl being dismembered alive – alive! – by a frame saw. The final death toll exceeded 400, with 150 to 200 people taken hostage. Later some of the hostages were killed, their deaths filmed.”
She said the clash brought on by rebels trying to overthrow Assad has left “everyone in Syria” facing “grave danger.”
“There was a case of Muslim religious leaders being kidnapped and beheaded. They were humiliated and tortured. Ismailis, the Druze, Christians – people from all parts of Syrian society – are being mass murdered.
“I would like to say that if these butchers didn’t have international support, no one would have dared to cross the line,” she said.
Blasting the U.S. for still pursuing intervention in the Syrian civil war, she said: “Everyone has spoken their mind, but the U.S. prefers to turn a deaf ear. The world public opinion has turned against the U.S. It’s the first time in history that America is alone.”
She added, “Even the American people disagree with their government.”
Another focal point for the violence against Syrian people has been Maaloula. There, according to a UPI report, rebels and Syrian army forces have been battling for control.
The Christian town has historic sites for both Muslims and Christians and is known around the world because its residents speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. It has been a site of civilization for literally thousands of years.
The report said most recently Assad’s warplanes bombed part of the town where rebels remained in control.
The fighting occurred just as a U.N. panel was announcing that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being attributed to both the Syrian government and the rebel forces.
A New York Times report on the U.N. statement confirmed that both sides are thought to have committed torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Mass killings and summary executions also were blamed on rebel forces.
While President Obama first wanted to move into Syria militarily, he abruptly reversed course following discussion with Russia and Syria over the prospect of Syria turning over its chemical weaponry to an international body for destruction.
A report from Al-Monitor, based in the Middle East, said the clashes in Maaloula began when a Jordanian national carried out a suicide bombing at a checkpoint there.
Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the rebels’ organizations, reportedly attacked and Syrian army troops responded.
An Al-Monitor source reported: “Terrorist groups infiltrated, and they spread throughout the town to intimidate the population. Violent clashes occurred, forcing them to withdraw and consolidate in the vicinity of the Maaloula Safir Hotel. Clashes are still ongoing.”
The atrocities attributed to the rebels, further, gained the headlines in the London Daily Mail, which reported that Islamists, when they invaded Maaloula, forced Christians to convert to Islam or be beheaded.
“I saw militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, ‘Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded,’” one resident told the newspaper.
A report at Catholic.org said two top bishops have been kidnapped and another priest remains missing.
The BBC reported Wednesday that the fighting over the town continued, but most of its 3,300 residents had fled, and al-Nusra fighters were desecrating ancient churches there.
Another BBC report quoted Sister Antoinette Wakin, from Maaloula, explaining, "I don't know what they are fighting for, but they are against Christians now in Maaloula."
PressTV showed images of crowds carrying the coffins of civilians killed in the violence, noting that Christians were executed for refusing to convert to Islam.
An additional report from RT quoted one jailed suspect, Raouchan Gazakov, as admitting his job "was mainly to prepare bombs for cars."
And Fox News' Leland Vittert affirmed that the fighting over Maaloula was violent, as first the government, then the rebels, took control.