Support Syrian Christians
23rd October 2012
A car bomb, exploded, killing 8 and injuring many more, in a heavily Christian part of Beirut on Friday, 19 October 2012. Early indicators point to Assad aligned forces aiming the attack at the intelligence chief of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed in the attack.[i] Al-Hassan, before his death, was investigating a link between Hizbollah and the Syrian government in Damascus in the 2005 assassination of Rafih al-Hariri, a former Prime Minister of Lebanon.[ii] He was also responsible for the arrest of the Syrian ally Michel Samaha on charges of plotting sectarian bombings.[iii] However, despite implicit motivation to assassinate General al-Hassan, the street bombed also housed the offices of Phalange, an anti-Assad Maronite Christian bloc.[iv] The bombing took place in a divided neighbourhood, home to a varied religious community including Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Druze.
Quickly following the car bomb, instances of violence, largely thought to be spontaneous responses to the earlier attack, spread through Beirut and later in Syria.[v]
In Damascus, another car bomb was set in the Christian neighbourhood of Bab Tuma, the gateway of the ancient old city of Damascus. Most recent reports of the bombing cite 13 killed and 29 injured in the blast.[vi] A similar strike took place in the heavily Christian Syrian second city of Aleppo. Though luckily no one was killed, several were wounded in the attack.
As the weekend rolled to completion, 108 were killed in fighting in Syria on Saturday and 55 died on Sunday.
Sadly, the events took place just as Assad promised to the UN and Arab League special peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that he supported ‘any sincere efforts to find a potential solution for the conflict.’[vii]
While it’s hard to tell if Christians have been specifically targeted in this past weekend’s events, one thing remains abundantly clear, Christians are dangerously close to violence in Syria and now Lebanon. This dangerous proximity to violence was part of Bishop Antoine Audo’s remarks in London last week, as he described violence in proximity to churches and convents in Aleppo, but then he correctly called into question whether the bombs were aimed at Christians specifically. The history of targeted violence at Christians in Syria during the past 18 months, however, leaves little doubt that Christians, regardless of targeting, are too dangerously close to the front lines of an increasingly dangerous conflict.
The humanitarian effort to support displaced Christians and religious minorities in and from Syria could be in great danger if violence continues to break out in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon. Christians entered Syria to avoid danger in Iraq; they since have sought refuge in Lebanon to escape danger in Syria, and now they have encountered the same sectarian violence as before in Lebanon. Generally, most refugees seek safety in neighbouring countries, but as neighbouring countries are running short so too are options available to Christians.
As geography and international aid for the oppressed and endangered has their limits, it’s becoming more important to pray for some sort of diplomatic peace process, and that Assad’s promise to pursue a political solution to the UN and the Arab League is not smoke and mirrors. As this conflict rages on, and the concern of international military intervention becomes more real, smoke will be all that remains in a country with too many fierce blasts for mirrors to have any use.
[i] Neil McFarquhar and David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Angry Lebanese attempt to storm government offices,’ New York Times, 22 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.
[ii] ‘Push for four-day truce in Syria UN peace envoy calls for ceasefire and talks,’ The Australian, 22 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.
[iii] Neil McFarquhar and David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Angry Lebanese attempt to storm government offices,’ New York Times, 22 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.
[iv] Mitchell Prothero and Peter Beaumont, ‘Syria’s war spreads as Beirut bomb kills spy chief: At least seven others killed and scores others killed in blast. Target was behind arrest of Assad ally in Lebanon,’ The Guardian, 20 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.
[v] Neil McFarquhar and David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Angry Lebanese attempt to storm government offices,’ New York Times, 22 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.
[vii] Patrick J. McDonnell, ‘Blast in Syria kills 13; The bombing occurs as a peace envoy meets with President Bashar Assad,’ Los Angeles Times, 22 Oct. 2012, accessed via Nexis UK.