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U.S. Religious Freedom Commission Underscores Al-Assad’s Role in Rise of Islamic State

In a strongly worded statement, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has highlighted the responsibility of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for instigating Syria’s bitter civil war and the rise of the Islamic State.

In a press release marking the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian conflict, USCIRF noted that the civil war began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against the oppressive al-Assad regime, but the regime “responded with a brutal crackdown and played on sectarian fears.”

This resulted in a deeper rift forming between Sunni Muslims, who were at the core of anti-Assad protests, and Shia Muslims, many of whom, including the Hezbollah terror group, have supported the regime.

In the statement, titled “Syria: Five Years of Suffering Must End,” USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George declared that the “actions of the Bashar al-Assad regime, elements of the armed opposition, and terrorist groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra, are responsible for the bloody conflagration in Syria.”

The fallout of the 5-year conflict has been devastating, the statement notes, with a death toll ranging between 250,000 and 470,000, 4.7 million Syrians registered as refugees in neighboring countries, more than 6.5 million internally displaced, and over 140,000 children born stateless.

The war has also had a tremendous effect on Syria’s Christian population, which has been decimated.

On Wednesday, the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, reported that in just five years, the Christian population in Syria has been reduced by two thirds, from 1.5 million to only 500,000 today.

Speaking at a press conference at the UN headquarters in Geneva, the bishop said that the situation in Aleppo is even worse than in the rest of Syria, with only a quarter of the Christian population remaining since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Ravaged by the fighting and persecuted by Islamic extremists, the number of Christians in Aleppo has fallen from 160,000 to just 40,000.

“You cannot imagine the dangers that we face every day,” Audo said. Wealthier Christians have all left, while “the middle classes have become poor and the poor have become miserable,” he said.

In the USCIRF statement, Dr. George stressed the need for a concerted action to put an end to the Syrian conflict, not only for the sake of those immediately affected, but also for the stability of the region and Europe itself. “Such large numbers of refugees are straining resources and exacerbating sectarian tensions in these countries,” George noted.

USCIRF appealed to the U.S. government to increase the number of Syrians accepted for resettlement to 100,000, “subject to proper security vetting and a prioritization based on vulnerability,” which would entailed the allocation of “sufficient resources to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that conduct the rigorous individualized vetting of refugees being considered for resettlement in the United States, to allow them to expeditiously process applications and thoroughly conduct background checks in order to facilitate resettlements without compromising U.S. national security.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter   

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