Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michael Qasarji said in Beirut that approximately 8,000 Iraqi Christians have taken refuge in Lebanon since the beginning of the crisis in Iraq, especially since the Islamic State took control of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, in June. The Sunni Muslim army of the Islamic State seized the churches, homes, and businesses belonging to Christians who had resided in the area since the beginning of the Christian era. Christians were given the choice of either converting to Islam or leaving, after their properties were marked for violent dispossesion by the Muslims. Christian women and girls fleeing the area have been reportedly systematically raped by IS forces. Converts from Islam to Christianity have been beheaded, in keeping with Islamic religious law. The crosses on the approximately 30 churches in Mosul were removed, while one of the churches has been converted to a mosque.
Bishop Qasarji said in a televised statement "We did not expect the arrival of such huge numbers of Iraqi Christians to Lebanon."
He pointed out that "we will provide food and other assistance to those displaced and also provide school for about 500 students," while explaining that his diocese especially needs medical personnel and supplies. He called on Christian and Muslim leaders to "not hesitate to cooperate with us."
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako decried the exodus of Christians from Mosul, for the first time in history. He pointed out that the city was home to about 30 churches, some dating back 500 years or more. (See coverage here and here)
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