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London, 4 December 2013, Mr. Daniel Gabriel on behalf of World Council of Arameans:
After the recent attacks by militant Islamic forces against the ancient Aramean towns of Ma’loula and al-Raqqa, the world recently witnessed another organized assault against the Biblical towns of Sadad and Hafar. Sadly Ma’loula is again the target of the Syrian rebel forces as they aim fire at innocent indigenous Christians and their lands, seemingly with the goal of expunging Syria’s Christian population from their homeland.
On 5 September, Jubhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group associated with Al-Qaeda in Syria, had violently entered Ma’loula, killing a number of innocent Christians and destroying the town’s historic buildings. At the time, many of the Christians of Ma’loula were told by the rebels that they had to convert to Islam or face death, thereby forcing some 3,000 civilians to escape from Ma’loula in order to save their lives and those of their families. A month later, seven militant rebel groups joined forces in laying siege on the Biblical town of Sadad. Before the Syrian Army liberated Sadad, Jubhat al-Nusra and the Katibat al-Mahawer brigade of the Free Syrian Army held 1,500 Aramean Christian families hostage for a full week and used them as human shields. Hostages included defenceless women and children and many deaths of the innocent resulted.
On 2 December Islamists again returned to attack the strategically located town of Ma’loula. While entering the village, the rebels once again vandalised the buildings in the UNESCO world heritage town. These militants then attacked the Greek Orthodox convent of St Thecla, holding Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and the nuns of the monastery hostage. Reports from Ma’loula indicate that 12 nuns are being held captive by the terrorists. At the moment, the fighting in the village has intensified as Syrian Army troops try to retake the ancient town and bring the nuns to safety.
All indications suggest that these kidnappings in Ma’loula are once again aimed at threatening the Christian population, increasingly forcing them to leave their homeland. The attack on the Christian villages of Sadad and Ma’loula, not to mention the kidnapping of two leading Bishops in Syria more than 200 days ago, are increasingly pushing the Christian population to the brink of desperation and fear.
The WCA condemns all kidnappings of Syrian citizens, especially that of religious figures which aims to put fear into the Syrians and rob the country of its ethno-religious diversity. We call on the militant rebel forces to release all hostages. The WCA also asks the international community, including global government leaders, media and human rights organisations to demand the protection of the indigenous Christian population in Syria and ensure that they have a safe and secure future in their homeland.