A casually-dressed Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, made a surprise visit to the Lady of Damascus Catholic Church in war-torn Syria’s capital city on Friday evening. They watched a choir rehearsal, listened to some Christmas poems, and posed for photos with churchgoers:
Albawaba.com notes the suburb in eastern Damascus where this church is located “has been a target of Syrian rebels fighting against the government.”
In fact, as Reuters observes, the church is only a little over a mile away from Jobar, “a neighborhood of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus that has been the focus for months of heavy aerial bombardments and more recently Russian bombing that have left dozens of mostly civilian casualties.” Russian propaganda outlet RT.com says the church itself was hit by mortar fire on Friday. The government of Russia is Assad’s most prominent international ally.
Reuters notes that Assad has been presenting himself as a protector of minorities and champion of religious tolerance, struggling against a rebellion led by hardline Islamist savages like ISIS and al-Qaeda. The danger of jihadis running wild against Christians and other religious minorities after Assad’s fall has been raised many times before, by religious groups and politicians from both sides of the aisle in the United States.
It is probably not coincidental that his appearance at the Damascus church coincided with the U.N. Security Council voting on a roadmap for resolving the Syrian civil war – a plan that did not expressly call for Assad to step down.