The Iranian- and Russian-backed regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad is behind more than 60 percent of the 124 attacks against Christian places of worship in Syria during the ongoing war, according to a report unveiled Monday by a monitor group linked to the opposition.
Assad has repeatedly described himself as the “protector” of religious minorities, a claim rejected by the assessment.
Of the 124 attacks on Christian places of worship by all sides in the conflict between March 2011 and September 2019, the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters are reportedly responsible for 75 (about 60.5 percent).
Opposition forces carried out 33 attacks (27 percent), while jihadis, including the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, are behind 12 (ten percent).
The report attributes the remaining four (three percent) to “other parties.”
Perpetrators deliberately attacked some of the Christian places of worship more than once.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), one of the top independent groups monitoring the conflict in Syria for the United Nations, authored the new report in cooperation with the activist group Americans for a Free Syria (AFS).
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the founder and chairman of the SNHR, briefed reporters about the investigation’s findings during a conference call Monday.
“The reality is that the Assad regime is the main threat for Christians,” Ghany declared.
“There is sometimes deliberate shelling … against churches,” he revealed, adding, “Several churches have been targeted several times by the Assad regime.”
The Syrian regime and its supporters are targeting any member of the opposition “regardless of religion,” Ghany pointed out.
With the help of Iran and Russia, the Assad regime has remained in power and now controls most of Syria.
Despite the regime’s atrocities against Christians, many followers of Christ and Syrian leaders have expressed support for Assad. Some Christian leaders have even condemned the United States for targeting the regime.
Before the start of the ongoing war in March 2011, Christians made up about ten percent of Syria’s population of 23 million and co-existed with the Muslim majority, enjoying the freedom of worship under Assad. About half of them are now either internally displaced or have left Syria altogether with their exodus catching steam after the start of the conflict, the Associated Press (AP) noted.
Ghany told Breitbart News during the conference call that fear of the Islamic terrorists in the region compels the local Christians to back Assad. The dictator has gained the support of many Christians by providing them with protection, benefits, services, positions, and other privileges, he indicated.
“There is mutual interest between the Assad regime and some of the … Christian groups as well,” he said, adding, “Some of them, of course, they are afraid of the extremist groups and [Assad forces them] to choose between [them and the regime].”
Ghany rejected Assad’s assertion that he is the “minority protector.”
In a press release issued along with the new report, the monitor group’s leader stated:
Targeting Christian places of worship is a form of intimidation against and displacement of the Christian minority in Syria. The Syrian regime has always invoked positive slogans painting itself as ‘protector’, but on the ground, it has done the opposite.
Erica Hanichak, the government relations director at Americans for a Free Syria, added:
Assad has made Syria unsafe for all Syrians, including Christians, and he must be held accountable for his actions. Further, evidence smuggled out by the defector Caesar and Christian networks on the ground confirm the Assad regime has detained, tortured, and killed Christians in his horrific prisons. We urge [U.S.] Congress and the [Trump] Administration to take meaningful actions to stop atrocities by Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran, against Christians and Syrians of all faiths.
The press release deemed Assad and his Iranian and Russian supporters “the single greatest targeter of Christian places of worship in Syria.”
Ghany also dismissed the regime’s claims that jihadis were hiding in the churches it targeted.
The region in and around the northwestern province of Idlib is the last remaining rebel and jihadi bastion in Syria.
Rebels have joined forces with al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who control most of the province against the Syrian forces and their backers.
Idlib is also home to “hundreds” of Christians, Asaad Hanna, a journalist and human rights activist who recently visited the region, told reporters during the conference call.
Christians in Idlib continue to hold Sunday worship services despite the onslaught at the hands of Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies, he added.
The Assad regime has been bombarding the Idlib region since April.