Syrian War Spreads to Christian Areas as Death Toll Mounts

The rebel uprising against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's regime has spilled into two Christian-populated areas in the capital of Damascus, with the country's leader describing the conflict as a "crucial and heroic battle."

"The army is engaged in a crucial and heroic battle... on which the destiny of the nation and its people rests," Assad said, calling the military "the backbone of the motherland."

"The enemy is among us today, using agents to destabilize the country, the security of its citizens... and continues to exhaust our economic and scientific resources," the embattled leader added.

A number of Syrian cities are currently caught in the deadly crossfire between rebels and government forces, and on Wednesday the fighting spread to Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi, two traditional Christian districts of Damascus, AFP shared.

While access to Syria for western journalists has been notably limited, British-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been posting updates on the various firefights gripping the nation and has tried to keep track of all the civilians killed or wounded in the midst of the battles.

The human rights group reported on its website earlier today that "7 civilians were killed by regime fire in the town of Jdeidat Artouz, Reef Dimashq, which the regime forces have stormed earlier today."

It was also reported that on Tuesday, 140 Syrians in total lost their lives in fresh clashes – among them were 43 unarmed civilians, 41 armed rebels, two defected soldiers, 56 members of regime forces, and six members of the popular committees. On Wednesday in their mid-day report, the organization revealed that 60 Syrians had been killed, along with another 41 unarmed civilians.

"This is fighting in areas where it has not happened before. These are areas where the rebels have so far not had access," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi have been described as areas that had once been popular with tourists, and played hosts to a number of pro-regime protests in the past.

While it is not yet clear how many citizens have been injured in the most recent battles in Damascus, reports have suggested that many of the 1.5 million Christians in the largely Muslim country are fleeing due to fear of what Syria's uncertain future may bring.

Many rebel and anti-government forces have portrayed President Assad as a tyrant who needs to be brought down – with one user on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Facebook page writing:

"God himself will fight against this autocratic, tyrannical, callous and inhuman Bashar al-Assad. His end shall be devastating, more devastating than that of Gaddafi."

However, some Christian groups have expressed fears that if radical Islamists take over, life for believers may get even worse.

"Will their freedom to worship end? Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?" asked Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller in a statement.

Some reports have placed the total number of dead in Syria since the conflict began last year at more than 17,000. The United Nations has failed to broker a peace agreement between the opposing forces.

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