Published: 16:00 GMT Standard Time - Tuesday 29 October 2013
Islamists besiege two Christian villages in Syria; 13 people killed
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Syria
Islamist rebels besieged two Christian villages in Syria, killing around 13 people and forcing thousands of families to evacuate their homes.
Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front stormed Saddad and Haffar on Monday last week (21 October). Until then, the villages had been relatively safe, and thousands of internally displaced families had sought refuge there.
A Barnabas Fund partner described the scene as 60 armed vehicles entered Saddad:
As the vehicles and armed personnel made their way through the streets, the shouting of “Allah Akbar” [“Allah is great”] and the touting of the Quran made it clear to both permanent and displaced that their time of relative tranquility was quickly coming to an end. As the armed groups began to set up sniper posts and a campaign of shelling, the day moved from bad to worse.
patrolling Saddad last week
He said children were crying in fear as the militants took over the villages. It is thought that they were being used as a launching point for strikes against a nearby army base and arsenal. The villages are strategically located between the central city of Homs and the capital Damascus.
Around 13 people were killed, with many more wounded, and while many fled, thousands were held as a human shield.
Our partners helped Christian families to evacuate to neighbouring villages, Homs and Damascus. Barnabas sent funds to provide transport, blankets, food parcels and other essentials.
On Monday (28 October), government forces recaptured the villages, enabling people to return.
Our partner said on Monday:
My brother and 15 young persons were going back to Haffar and they were all crying of joy when they learned they could return. We are arranging for twelve minibuses to bring people from Damascus and Homs today to the two villages. Tomorrow we are arranging for two buses to bring people back from Damascus and will see how to support the return of the others. We are preparing to give [everyone] food parcels upon their return.
Saddad and Haffar are the latest Christian villages to be targeted by Islamist rebels in Syria’s civil war. The attacks follow raids on Saidnaya and the takeover of Maaloula; a version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is spoken in both places.