The fighting between Syria's President Assad and dissidents seeking to overthrow his government made a disturbing turn in at least two different areas of the country.

Recently near the city of Homs, according to Vatican sources, combatants have forcibly expelled all Christian families in the village of Al Borj Al Qastal, in the province of Hama. News agencies and local Church sources confirmed that militias of the composite Syrian Liberation Army had penetrated the village, driving out all Christian families and taking possession of homes and turning a church into a military headquarters. The village had been home to approximately 10 Christian families who are now refugees.

In another incident, Father George Louis, a Catholic priest and pastor of St. Michael's parish in Qara, Damascus province, was attacked in his home during the early morning hours on May 11. According to Vatican sources, it was at dawn on May 11 that two masked gunmen entered Fr. Louis' home, threatening him and demanding the keys to the house. Binding his hands and tying him to a chair, one of the them struck him on the head with a glass bottle that caused a deep wound. While the priest was bleeding profusely, the assailants struck him again, breaking his teeth. 

After stealing the sacred vessels used in the Divine Liturgy at the Syrian-rite parish, the robbers took the priest's laptop computer and moved him to a bathroom. There they sealed his mouth and began to throttle him with a pipe. However, after receiving a signal, the assailants fled and left him bleeding and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

After several hours, the priest managed to call on one of his parishioners for help. The priest's injuries required stitiches, and he is expected to recover. The assault was roundly condemned by religious and civic leaders, Christians and Muslims. Opponents of the Assad regime are slated to meet with the Syrian-rite Catholic abbot of the city on May 13, ostensibly to discuss interfaith relations. Relations in Qara between Christians and Muslims is now tenuous. The city has a Christian population amounting to 500 souls, among 25,000 Sunni Muslim compatriots. Refugees from Baba Amr and the area surrounding Homs are taking refuge in Qara, where they are being accommodated in public buildings, gymnasiums, mosques, cultural centers, or private homes.

Among the refugees are combatants of the Syrian Liberation Army, which has turned Qara into a violent and unsafe place, with robberies, kidnappings, coupled with a climate of banditry and lawlessness, as shown in the attack upon  Fr. George Louis. Greek Melkite Patriach Gregorios III Laham of Antioch expressed alarm over the "banditry and the total lack of security, as well as the indiscriminate violence."  These are factors, said the patriarch, which "constitute a danger to everyone, but especially for Christians and other minorities," and thus causing "very serious psychological terror in our population." 



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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