An Italian Jesuit priest who had been living in Syria for 30 years and helped to unite Christians and Muslims has been expelled from the country for criticizing the government.
The Rev. Paolo Dall'Oglio, who helped restore a 1,000-year-old monastery and was credited for building bridges between Christians and Muslims, managed to delay the expulsion a year ago with a Facebook campaign defending his right to stay, but had to leave Damascus by Saturday, NPR.com revealed yesterday.
"I am very moved by the face of many youth that have been suffering enormously to achieve their desire of freedom and dignity," Dall'Oglio said last week as he said his goodbyes to friends and supporters in the country. "There are so many young persons that are put in jail and tortured, just because they have expressed, nonviolently, their opinions."
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups announced a new joint action committee Tuesday in efforts to bring down President Bashar al-Assad. Government forces have been locked in a fierce battle with rebel groups in recent months, resulting in thousands of deaths, despite efforts by the United Nations to broker a peace agreement and restore stability in the country.
The rebel groups have been uniting in their efforts now more than ever, however, and have agreed to join "the forces of the revolutionary movements," CNN reported.
"While this joint committee is striving to overthrow the tyrannical regime in Syria, it calls upon all revolutionary forces to join them and work together to expedite the toppling of the regime, and to protect our people in Syria from its brutality," said a statement from one of the groups, the Syrian Expatriates Organization.
A total of 18 were killed in clashes in the Homs region on Tuesday and in an attack in Deir Ezzor on Monday. Government forces have continued blaming "terrorist actions" for the casualties, while the rebel groups say it is the government committing these acts in order to crush protests against the regime.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia President Vladimir Putin met on Monday in Mexico at the G-20 meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis, but no immediate solution was proposed to solve the growing problem.
Syrian rebel groups put the number of dead since the operations against al-Assad began to 13,000, while the U.N.'s estimate is about 10,000.
Explaining his opposition to the government's actions and the violence that has shaken up the Middle East country, Dall'Oglio said, "I am a monk, and I have taken a position with nonviolence, but the church I belong to believes in the right of people of self-defense. I will stay faithful to nonviolence, but I won't be astonished that violence brings violence in reaction."
Despite being forcefully evicted from his home, Dall'Oglio has vowed to return.
"It would be better for me to be dead with the martyrs of this country than to go away in exile. I have offered my life for the future of this country, and I wish to stay in full solidarity with them; so I will come back," he promised.
Syria's 1.5 million Christians have been in danger during the bombings in recent months, as the city of Homs, which has a large Christian presence, has been the target of bomb attacks by the government.
"The armed Islamist Opposition in Syria has murdered more than 200 Christians in the city of Homs, including entire families with young children. These Islamic gangs kidnapped Christians and demanded high ransoms. In two cases, after the ransoms were paid, the men's bodies were found," a priest in Syrian told Barnabas Aid, an organization working to help Christians in dire need.
"Christians are being forced to flee the city to the safety of government controlled areas. Muslim rebel fighters and their families are taking over their homes. We need your prayers and we need them urgently," he added.