- (Photo: Reuters/Zain Karam)
Recent reports from Syria have described the horrific persecution of Christians by some al-Qaeda-linked rebel forces, but one group of Christians in Aleppo is shedding new light on the Middle Eastern country's civil war, telling reporters that in fact it is part of the rebel coalition that has kept them safe.
A group of six elderly Christians living in the Mar Elias House, a church hostel for the needy in Aleppo, have argued that President Bashar Assad's regime has sought to paint all rebel forces as violent, al-Qaeda linked terrorists seeking to make Syria an entirely Islamic state. Although the Christians do confirm that some factions of the rebel coalition are religious extremists, others are more moderate activists seeking simply to have the Assad regime overthrown and install a new government in the country.
One such group with a presence in Aleppo is the rebel Free Syrian Army, a coalition of fighters backed by the U.S. The Free Syrian Army's tactics differ from another well-known rebel group, the al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front, that uses violent attacks against civilians, including Christians, in an attempt to make Syria a completely Islamic state.
One of the hostel's residents, Michael Oberi, told Fox News that the Free Syrian Army and another brigade of Islamic fighters, Liwa-al Tawid, supply the Christians in Aleppo with provisions, such as bread and rice, and protect them from the Islamic extremists factions that are heavily concentrated in the area's Old City.
"Thanks to [the rebels], we can move freely around the Old City without fear of radical Islamists, who have a strong presence in this part of Aleppo," Oberi told Fox News.
Abu Ammar, head of the Liwa-al Tawid rebels in the area, added to Fox News that his group does not seek to harm Christians: "Christians are not our enemies. The Prophet [Mohammed] respected Christians, and so do we. We did so before the war, and we will afterwards."
Christians in Aleppo make up 20 to 30 percent of the entire population.
Reports of peaceful relations between rebel groups and Christians in Aleppo differs greatly from reports stemming from Maaloula, another Christian town located north of Damascus. Maaloula, a town usually controlled by Assad loyalists, was reportedly overtaken by Syrian rebels two weeks ago, primarily rebels belonging to the terroristic Al-Nusra Front. Members of the Free Syrian Army also entered the town at one point, but agreed to withdraw its fighters from the region to prevent the bloodshed of Christian civilians.
The Al-Nusra Front stayed in Maaloula, reportedly forcing Christians to convert at gunpoint, as well as slitting the throat of one Christian man in front of his fiancée. Although President Assad's army has claimed it has regained control of Maaloula, civilians have continued to report scattered fighting between rebels who have remained stationed in the village.
Syria has been involved in a gruesome civil war for the past two years between loyalists to President Bashar Assad's regime and rebel fighters seeking to overthrow the regime. The U.S. recently became involved in the war when it accused Assad of using chemical weapons on civilians in a horrific attack on August 21 in Damascus that killed over 1,000 people. Although the U.S. initially threatened a limited military strike against Syria for its alleged human rights abuses, it is now pursuing a diplomatic option, in which Syria would relinquish its chemical weapons arsenal to international control, where it would then be destroyed.