The scale of violence has reached an unrivalled peak in Homs, where the number of Christians left in the ancient city has fallen below 1,000.
As a major government offensive against Baba Amr and other rebel-held areas of Homs got under way in early February, many Christians left because of the intensity of the fighting.
One priest from the district of Hamidiya, who fled to Lebanon seven weeks ago, said friends who remained in the city had spoken of a growing "atmosphere of fear". "Some Christians who tried to escape a week ago were stopped from leaving by the rebels and were instead forced to go to a mosque to act as shields," he said. "They thought that, because Christians support Assad, the government would not attack them."
Church leaders have accused Muslim neighbours of turning on the Christians.
"The people we are helping are very afraid," Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo said. "The Christians don't know what their future will hold. They are afraid they will not get their homes back."
An interview with Issam Bishara, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association's (CNEWA) regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Excerpt:
Have Christians been specifically targeted by Assad and his government forces?No. On the contrary, the regime is still providing protection to the Christian communities in almost all places where the regime is still controlling the ground. But the problem occurred especially in Homs after the protestors and the Islamic groups had controlled a part of the city (Bab Amro Quarter) where around 200 Christians were killed. The other concern is related to terrorism, which can target anyone and any place and especially Christian military officers and their communities.
On Feb. 24-25, the ancient St. Virgin Mary Church was damaged in the fighting in Homs. Can you tell us more about that?
St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt is located in the downtown of Homs, or what is so-called "the Old City," and is considered the siege of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Homs. The majority of churches and Archbishoprics of other confessions are also concentrated in the same surrounding (Hamidiya , Boustan el Diwan, etc.), and this quarter was subject to military confrontations between the militias and the government forces, and most of the time militiamen were using the churches and the Christians as shields to protect themselves from shelling. It is also important to mention that some icons inside the churches were damaged on purpose by the militias.
If the Assad regime does eventually fall, who will fill the void and assume leadership of Syria? How will this change in government affect Christians in Syria?
Taking into consideration the demographic composition of the Syrian population where Muslim Sunnites make up more than 80 percent of the Syrian population and the general trend of all Arab Spring movements where the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis were the only organized political forces capable and ready to fill the void and seize the power in a democratic way, we strongly believe that the same pattern will continue in Syria as well.