- (Photo: Reuters/Handout)
Dozens of observers from the Arab League were expected to arrive Monday in Syria amid reports of violence which has been tearing the country apart despite international criticism of the regime's crackdown on protesters.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has reportedly increased attacks on protesters in recent weeks. As the observers were expected Monday, government forces were bombarding the western city of Homs, CNN has reported. Some 23 people were killed Monday according to opposition reports, 22 of them in Homs.
The Arab League mission is expected to visit Homs on Tuesday, a senior Arab League official told CNN.
Friday before Christmas two suicide car bombings killed 40 in Damascus, in what is a sign of escalating violence.
Government violence in Syria has been continuing in response to part of the social upraising known as the Arab Spring. The protests in the country erupted in January. Protesters have been calling for political reforms and the reinstatement of civil rights, but instead they faced violence from the regime forces. The United Nations has estimated recently the death toll to be 5,000, while the number of detained is guessed to be between 15,000 and 40,000. On Dec. 14, 2011, the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called on other countries to intervene to help end the bloodshed.
Many Christians who escaped to Syria from neighboring Iraq- where they experience persecution- ended up trapped in the political turmoil, Christian documentarian Gwendolen Cates told The Christian Post recently.
As CP reported recently, violent attacks against Christians by Muslim extremists in Syria have also been on the rise as a byproduct of the country’s volatile political situation. (Previously, the government had reportedly been quite tolerant of religious diversity, including Christians).
“Christians inside Syria are caught in the crossfire as they are in many other Middle Eastern countries,” Open Doors president and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller said earlier this month. “Until the protests started against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Christian community enjoyed some protection. Now they are afraid of the future. Will they have to flee their country like Iraqi Christians have done over the last several years?”
Paul Estabrooks, communication specialist for the international organization, told CP at the time that the group’s workers in Syria have reported various atrocities, including the kidnapping of two Christian women who entered taxi cabs driven by Muslim fundamentalists.
Christian leaders around the world have been condemning violence in the country.
A Vatican representative to the U.N., Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said earlier this month that the democratic protests arose from legitimate aspirations for "better future of economic well-being, justice, freedom and participation in public life."
"They point to the urgent necessity of real reforms in social, economic and political life," he said. “Such principles must guide leaders while taking account of the aspirations of civil society as well as the instances of the international community."
Tomasi also expressed the church's condolences to the families of victims and its prayers for the recovery of the wounded, the magazine reported.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has also voiced its support of the U.N. resolution.
"The Human Rights Council again has spoken up for the tormented Syrian people," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "The UN Security Council should convene soonest to adopt the strongest possible measures against Syria. Each day of delay costs more lives at the hands of President Assad's despotic regime."
Syria has a population of more than 20 million, of which about 1.5 million are Christians, according to Open Doors. There are also 100,000 Iraqi Christians that fled to Syria because of persecution in their own country. Christian denominations constitute 10 percent of the Syrian population, according to data from the U.S. Department of State. The largest Christian denomination is the Greek Orthodox Church, known in the country as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.