Saturday, December 7, 2013

As-Safir on the Destruction of Maaloula

Arabic original here.

Priest from Maaloula to as-Safir: The Rebels are Burning the Town

by Carmen Joukhadar

"Maaloula cries out for help and there is no one to bring help." So summarizes the priest of the [Greek Catholic?] parish in Zahle, Fr Fadi Leondios al-Barkeel, the situation in his hometown, which he last visited  in August, before it was subjected to terrorist attacks by Jabhat al-Nusra in the first week of September.

The priest confirms to as-Safir that Jabhar al-Nusra, which has taken control of the region, is burning houses and has set fire to the entire Old City where the Christians live, and that the nuns who were kidnapped by the rebels have been taken to an unknown location.

The priest confirms that the people of Maaloula, the historic Christian town, have taken refuge in Damascus and Zahle, while the Patriarchate in the Syrian capital is undertaking to help them by paying the first three months' rent for the apartments they rent.

Al-Barkeel states that residents left Maaloula with the clothes on their backs after the rebels surprised them. They had harbored hopes of returning to their homes, "But any dream of return has become impossible after their houses were pillaged and burned."

He adds with a lump in his throat, "The people of Maaloula only wanted to keep their churches. Historic, Aramaic Maaloula is gone. That's it. It's gone." He affirms that the expulsion of Maaloula's residents comes within the context of a plan to expell the Christians from the Middle East, drawing attention to the fact that the rebels targeted [the Christian villages of] Sadad, Deir Attiyeh, Nabak and now Maaloula.

The priest relates from those most recently arriving from Maaloula that the rebels swore during their latest attack on the town, "We will burn Maaloula and everything in it." He reveals that visiting the monasteries has been forbidden since February on account of the presence of rebels in the Safir Hotel [on the hill overlooking the monasteries].

The priest states that during the first assault [in September] there was an attack on the Church of Saint Sergius, whose cross they removed, then attacks on the Church of Saint Barbara and the Monastery of Saint Thekla. He indicates that a large number of historically and religiously significant icons disappeared.

For her part, a woman who arrived in Lebanon from Maaloula two days ago confirms to as-Safir that returning to Maaloula has become an impossible dream for residents of the region, after "Terrorists burned the town." She states that "In the first assault, the terrorists took control of several homes and destroyed them, just as from the very first day they attacked the churches, destroyed the dome of the Church of Saint Sergius, and destroyed the crosses." She mentions that when the rebels entered Maaloula they stated that they would not touch holy things, but they defiled the altars in the churches and wreaked destruction.

The woman, who left Maaloula for Damascus after the first assault, tells of the rebels kidnapping her husband and transporting him to an area near the hills outside Ersal, only to release him 52 days later after the payment of a cash ransom.

The woman, who is helping the Archdiocese of Zahle to receive Syrian refugees, relates from residents of her hometown of Maaloula that the latest assault was undertaken by hundreds of terrorists who "Attacked the village and, amidst cries of 'Allahu Akbar' also shouted, 'Where are you, O worshipers of the cross?'"

The woman, who dried her tears more than once as she recalled the fist assault and  the "impossibility" of returning after the rebels took over, states that "Tanks from the Syrian Army also subjected the churches to thermal rockets" and that "What led to the end of the battle after three days was the numerical superiority of the terrorists over the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces."

A church source from Maaloula confirms that the city has been subjected to a campaign of desecration, destruction, burning and pillaging, stating that the people of the region had left on September 7, following the first assault.

The church source, located in Lebanon, wonders aloud to as-Safir about the silence of Christian leaders in Lebanon who are close to the Syrian opposition, drawing attention to the fact that "These parties treat what is happening in Maaloula as though it is something that doesn't concern them."

He wonders, "Where are George Sabra and Michel Kilo, who presented themselves as representatives of the Christians with the opposition? Why are they silent? What hotel are they staying in today?"

The source points out that Pope Francis raised his voice high when he said, "We will not allow there to be a Middle East empty of Christians," hoping that church officials will raise their voice more and more , especially after the events in Maaloula.

The source addresses himself to officials in the Church and says, "Don't speak in our name in Europe and America... Stand beside us in these circumstances... Cry out next to us, don't cry out abroad, since no one will hear you... Please lift your voice to heaven... We do not need your standing there at feasts and festivals, but rather in this difficult situation that we are suffering through."

The source confirms that during the first attack, 6 young men were kidnapped and their fate is still unknown today, while three other young men were killed because "they refused to stop being Christians."

The source regards the attacks on Maaloula as "a reaction to and revenge for the losses suffered by the rebels in a number of regions of Syria, especially in Qalamoun," noting that "the terrorists who attacked Qalamoun fled from Sadad, Deir Attiyeh and Nabak and came to take revenge." He adds, "Who do these people want to take revenge on? From the saints? From the historic town? From a region empty of everyone save a few young men remaining to protect homes from robbery? What is in Maaloula other than history, religion and love? In Maaloula there are no military barracks, missiles or chemical weapons, so what do you want from Maaloula, which was living in peace?"

Recognizing that "Returning won't happen any time soon," he speaks bitterly about his hometown that he has lost, "I will return to look for my house, for pictures of members of my family who have died and for my memories. My whole world is there and I will find nothing left of it."

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