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Deliberate attacks on churches by rebels in Syria condemned as war crimes

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Syria

Human Rights Watch has condemned opposition groups in Syria for “unjustified attacks against minority places of worship”, saying that these amount to war crimes.

Numerous churches in Syria have been destroyed
Numerous churches in Syria
have been destroyed

The leading human rights organisation released on 23 January the findings of investigations it carried out in Latakia and Idlib governorates in November and December 2012.

It found evidence that opposition fighters had “deliberately destroyed religious sites” and that the attacks had been carried out after the areas had fallen to opposition control and government forces had left.

Churches were raided by armed gunmen after they seized control of the Christian villages of Jdeideh and Ghasaniyeh in Latakia.

They took control of the former on 11 December and, once the government troops had fled, broke into the village church; they stole items and fired numerous shots inside, causing structural damage. The rebels also used the minister’s quarters next to the church to fire at a neighbouring village, where government troops were present.

One resident told Human Rights Watch that opposition fighters stole medicine from a church-run clinic, looted homes and kidnapped civilians.

Events in Ghasaniyeh followed a similar pattern. Rebels entered the village in late November, broke into the local church and stole petrol and diesel fuel. They looted homes and kidnapped one resident.

The violence and dire humanitarian conditions in Jdeideh and Ghasaniyeh drove Christians to flee the villages in large numbers.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said:

The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country… Syria will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship.

The opposition in Syria should back up its claims that it will uphold minority rights by protecting places of worship, and more generally ensuring that gunmen acting in its name respect civilians and civilian properties.

The group said that, under international humanitarian law, parties in an armed conflict have a responsibility not intentionally to attack religious buildings that are not being used for military purposes, adding, “Deliberate attacks on religious sites that are not military objectives are war crimes.”

Barnabas Fund has been reporting deliberate attacks on churches and other Christian targets, as well as the kidnap and murder of Christians, by opposition forces in Syria for many months. We have compiled a categorised timeline of anti-Christian incidents that dates back to almost the very beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.  

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  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 13 hours ago

  • Pray for Barnabas Aid partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

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