Thousands of Christians have fled the besieged Syrian city of Qusayr after reportedly being given an ultimatum to leave by the opposition military chief there, a threat echoed by the mosques.
Most of the western city’s 10,000 Christian residents have left, and some of the mosques in Qusayr are said to have given last week the thousand or so who remain a deadline to vacate. The following message was allegedly announced from the minarets: “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending Friday (8 June).”
Local sources said that an earlier ultimatum had been issued by the military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba. They added that Islamic extremists within the opposition consider Christians “infidels”, confiscate their belongings and carry out mass executions.
Opponents of the government have denied ordering Christians out of Qusayr. In a statement said to be from the rebel leadership in the city, issued on Monday (11 June), they said that they had “lived together with our beloved Christian brothers and sisters for decades, working together and living alongside one another”.
They added that most of the Christian families, along with Muslim families, had fled Qusayr around two months ago owing to shelling by government militia.
The city, which is around 15 miles from another key battleground of Homs, has been the site of intense clashes between President Assad’s troops and opposition forces for months. Almost the entirety of the 50,000-60,000 Christian population of Homs has fled as a result of heavy fighting there.
Christians from Qusayr have gone to nearby villages or to stay with relatives and friends in the capital, Damascus.
Whether or not they were ordered out, it is clear that they no longer felt safe in their homes, and like their counterparts in Homs, have been forced to flee as a result of the ongoing conflict.
Christians are particularly vulnerable in anti-government strongholds because they are assumed to be supporters of President Assad, having enjoyed considerable freedom under his regime.
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