Save Syria, Urges Melkite Patriarch of Damascus

BEIRUT (CNS) — Syria’s 2.5 million Christians are being pushed into an exodus from the country out of fear of chaos and crime, said Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus.

In a report from the Melkite Archdiocese of Homs, Syria, distributed by the patriarchate, the patriarch urged the international community to “save Syria.”

“Save Syria”s exemplary coexistence of Muslims and Christians,” Patriarch Laham said in the report. “To the ones who care, I cry out: ‘Save the presence of the Christians in Syria.”

Armed gangs are kidnapping Syrian people and demanding ransom, according to the report, “An Experience of Current Life in Syria.” Ransoms demanded are typically $20,000 to $40,000 for a Christian and $1,000 to $5,000 for a Muslim.

The report recounted the May 11 attack on a Melkite priest in Qara, southeast of Damascus.

Two armed, masked men came into the priest“s residence, demanding his keys. He refused, fearing the intruders would enter the church. The men then tied up the priest, struck his head and slashed it with a broken glass bottle.

One of the attackers said to the priest, “We carved a cross in your head,” the report said.

They then beat the priest, tied him to a toilet seat and began to strangle him with a pipe. Abruptly, the assailants left, taking the priest’s keys, computer and phone. The priest freed himself two hours later.

“Such an incident was unthinkable only a few months ago. In Syria, Christians were formerly respected along with all minorities,” the report said.

“We see that blind acts of violence are everywhere and we have nowhere to take refuge. The mutilations, bombings, and threats have a psychological aim: to bring the population to its knees. At every moment we are in total insecurity,” it said.

“Today in Syria we can no longer speak of a government-opposition division. There is a third element: the criminals who roam freely, taking advantage of the situation. They hide behind the opposition and they exploit both the lack of armed forces and the absence of U.N. observers.”

The report quoted Patriarch Laham as saying:

“The Syria is tied up and swept away by the international politics. Without any serious investigation, they claim the government perpetrates massacres and bombs civilians. Meanwhile, the barbarous acts by the insurgents pass by without a word.”

“There is a legitimate government who must govern,” the patriarch said. “If it is destroyed, there will be nothing to replace it. Unfortunately, we see that the international community aims to make the situation worse, divide Syria and provoke conflict. By arming and supporting forces that are out of control we are pushing the country towards more violence, terror and bloodshed.”

“I address the international community: save Syria,” he said.

In a separate statement recounting the twin bombings in Damascus May 10 in which at least 55 people were killed and 300 injured, Patriarch Laham said he was praying at the Cathedral of Bab Sharqi, about a mile and a half from the site, at the time of the blasts.

The patriarch called the attack ’an act of cruelty without precedent in Syria, which has shown the true face of the forces at work behind this absurd propaganda war” and said the world “is not listening to the Syrian people’s cries of distress.”

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