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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

10/14/2013 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A greater number of Christian soldiers are joining with Assad as Islamist rebels threaten Christian communities.

Syrian Christians are starting to align with the regime of Bashar al Assad as extremist rebels form an increasing number of the anti-regime fighters. Worried about their churches and homes, Christians are organizing into volunteer units and fighting alongside the regular Syrian army. There is a sense of stalemate and a need for negotiation to end the conflict.

A church tower riddled with bullet holes. Christians are finding it harder to remain neutral as jihadists close in.

A church tower riddled with bullet holes. Christians are finding it harder to remain neutral as jihadists close in.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/14/2013 (9 months ago)

Published in Middle East

Keywords: Syria, Christians, soldiers, al qaeda, jihadists, Islam, Assad


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - France 24 carried the story late last week of "John" a Christian fighting in Assad's forces. John was interviewed by the agency who wanted to know why Christians, originally neutral in the conflict, have started to gravitate towards the Assad regime.

Christians are a major minority in Syria making about 5 percent of the population. A few have sided with the rebels, however the majority have tried to remain neutral, worried that an unfavorable outcome could bring post-war repercussions.

While Christians may not be major supporters of the Assad regime, they distrust the jihadists whose publicly stated goal is to turn Syria into an Islamic state with conversion to Islam made compulsory.

To accomplish their mission, jihadist fighters have targeted clergy, ransacked churches and shrines, and killed some Christians in their efforts to terrorize Christian enclaves into submission. The Free Syrian Army, that arm of the rebels recognized by the United States and its allies does not endorse the tactics of the jihadists, and has on some occasions actually clashed with them. However, the Syrian uprising is hugely dependent on the influx of al Qaeda-linked fighters and cannot continue without them.

The jihadists have been largely successful in hijacking the rebellion.

This leaves Christians with a shrinking choice, which is to reluctantly join regime forces in an effort to defend their communities against the jihadist threat.

John told France 24, "I tried to encourage the men from my village and nearby villages to join up as well. But they weren't very receptive, as they didn't feel concerned by what was going on. All the while, an increasingly large number of Lebanese and Palestinian Jihadists were crossing the border to come support the rebels. From week to week, the number of kidnappings and attacks against civilians was increasing rapidly. All the inhabitants of the region, whether Christian or Muslim, could clearly see that criminals were taking advantage of the reigning chaos to loot and kidnap innocent people. This ended up pushing many of our young men to join the ranks of the National Defense Committees."

John added that many prominent local religious leaders were "reticent" to support the Christian reinforcement of Assad's army, but they all recognize the threat posed by the al Qaeda linked fighters.

There is a growing sense that the conflict cannot be resolved by fighting so the incentive to negotiate is strong. However, al Qaeda-backed fighters have little desire to negotiate and they often undermine ceasefires. The rebel forces are receiving arms and supplies, especially the jihadists with their own, independent supply networks.

With no end to the conflict in sight, more Christians are taking Assad's side in an effort to stem the slowly rising tide of jihadists arrayed against them.

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