The Jabhat al-Nusra jihadist group, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, set its eyes on Mhardeh, which is one of the last Christian cities in the war-torn country. Locals claim ten-year-old Shaza Bitar was killed in one attack on September 4.
Shaza Bitar10 Years OldKilled in Mhardeh, Hama, #Syria By #Al_Nusra Terrorism Missile04/09/2014v/@SiriaResiste pic.twitter.com/mugAgxutVo
— Mia con Siria (@wewillsoon) September 5, 2014
“There is shelling night and day,” Josef, a resident in Mhardeh, told The Telegraph. “We have no electricity. There is only one road out and it is dangerous to use it now.”
He said the people live on vegetables because meat cannot be stored properly without electricity because al-Nusra destroyed the power plant.
#Hama: Photos: Aftermath of Islamist attack on #Mhardeh Power Plant (Under #SAA Control). #Syria pic.twitter.com/D2MC6MqvQZ
— Rook (@2Rook14) June 27, 2014
#Mhardeh Power Plant is on massive fires.. #Hama #Syria pic.twitter.com/zAh8e45dba
— Rami(?) (@RamiAlLolah) June 25, 2014
In August, residents decided to take up arms to fight against the jihadists.
“The gunmen have been sniping and shelling the town, which has kept its residents in a constant state of panic,” said native George Rahhal. “They have also targeted the electric power and telecommunication facilities, and a number of residents have been killed and wounded as a result of the daily shelling.”
An elderly fighter in the National Defense Forces in Mhardeh posts with dead Jabhat Al-Nusra terrorists: pic.twitter.com/xGHi4DZoVz
— ??? ??????? (@KeepingtheLeith) September 2, 2014
The attacks are eerily similar to al-Nusra’s counterparts, the Islamic State (ISIS). Christians called Mosul home for 2,000 years and lived peacefully with Muslims. ISIS attacked the historic Christian community of Mosul, Iraq, in July. ISIS told Christians to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or die. One man could not pay the tax, and the terrorists raped his wife and daughter in his presence. The man committed suicide. ISIS destroyed shrines and temples held dear to Christians and Muslims, but the attacks stopped after residents of both faiths banded together to protect the buildings.
Muslims and Christians are also joining forces in Mhardeh. University student Rami al-Saad told al-Shorfa.com he never leaves his house unarmed. He also said Muslims from other towns traveled to Mhardeh to support and help the residents against al-Nusra. These people bring “logistical materials, weapons and ammunition.” When sirens sound, the people immediately grab weapons, and ambulances prepare for any injuries or deaths.
Al-Nusra said they are not targeting Christians specifically. Nuns captured and released by al-Nusra in Maaloula said the terrorists treated them well. However, the jihadists do possess a history of targeting Christians. In Kasab, as they entered the city, the group destroyed Christianity-affiliated churches and shrines. They hit the Mar Mikhael Armenian Church, which forced Reverend Nareg Luisian to flee his church.
“We do not know what happened to the [residents’] properties,” he told al-Shorfa.com. “All that we know, we have gleaned from YouTube videos posted by ANF, one of which showed our church stripped of anything related to the manifestations of Christianity.”
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