Explosion Kills 4 in Christian Area of Syria's Capital City

Reuters/SANA/HandoutDebris from the explosion in Bab Touma, a famous Christian quarter of Damascus' Old City. This handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

A blast in the Christian Bab Touma district in the Old City of Damascus killed at least four and wounded several Thursday, Syrian television reported. This marks the first strike inside the walls of the Old City and an attack potentially targeted at Syrian Christians.

Syrian state television traced the attack to a suicide bombing, while "opposition sources said it was a mortar attack," Reuters reported. State television went so far as to call it "a terrorist suicide bombing."

"It was unclear who was behind the attack, but there were many potential targets in the vicinity," continued the Reuters report.

Near the blast stands "the ancient Mariamite Cathedral, seat of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, which like most churches has avoided announcing a stance on the 27-month-old struggle between President Bashar al-Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels."

"A suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Miriamite church," AFP quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying. Reuters quoted the same group saying "two mortar rounds had hit Amin Street, home to Shi'ite Muslim families who generally back Assad."

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) warned that Syria may be experiencing a Christian exodus similar to the one Iraq experienced after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

"Christians are seeing a repetition of the situation in Iraq, that they are largely wiped out between the opposing fronts, and once their survivors are driven out, they seldom have the opportunity to return," the WEA's human rights ambassador, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, said.

As The Christian Post reported, "of the previous 60,000 Christians in Homs, one of the areas worst affected by the Syrian conflict, less than 1,000 remain."

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's civil war, and the civilian count stands at 36,661, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

U.S.-based Christian organization Food for the Hungry has joined the Red Cross and other groups to provide food, shelter, and household items for citizens of the war-torn country. The Red Cross said it is planning for an extended war, with no political solution in sight.

On Tuesday, Dr. John Eibner, CEO of Christian Solidarity International, a Christian Human Rights group in Switzerland, requested Congressional aid for Syrian Christians. He testified that they Syrian war "could lead to the eradication of religious minorities," including "Christians, Alawites, and other non-Sunni Muslim groups in Syria," JNS news reported.

The heart of Damascus, the Old City dates back some 4,000 years, finds numerous references in the Bible, and stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site.