Syria's Christians want stability, not regime: Maronites

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, September 6, 2012

Syria's Christians do not support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, but they do want stability in the war-torn country, Lebanon's Maronite Christian Patriarch Bishara Rai told AFP on Thursday.

"I tell Westerners who say that we (Christians) are with the Syrian regime that we are not with regimes, we are with the state. There is a big difference," Rai told AFP, a week before the arrival in Lebanon of Pope Benedict XVI.

"In Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was removed, we lost a million Christians," he said at the patriarchal residence in Diman in northwest Lebanon. "Why? Not because the regime fell, but because there was no more authority, there was a vacuum."

"In Syria, it's the same thing, Christians do not back the regime but they are afraid of what may come next, that is their feeling," said Rai.

The Maronites, who are the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon, are only a minority among fellow believers in neighboring Syria, where their roots originally lie.

Maronite right-wing factions were active opponents of the Syrian regime for most of the Lebanese Civil War, but Lebanon's main Christian group shares the anxiety of Syrian Christians who fear the downfall of Assad might leave a power vacuum, with Islamist radicals like al-Qaeda targeting the Christian minority.

Recent reports have emerged of Islamist attacks on Christians in Syria, including a Greek Catholic archbishop that was forced to flee Aleppo to Lebanon last month.

The rebel Free Syrian Army headed by General Mustafa al-Sheikh vowed on Wednesday to reform the armed movement and re-brand it as the Syrian National Army in a bid to maintain national unity and prevent sectarian warfare.

The rise in sectarian killings has alarmed the army defectors now leading the Free Syrian Army, who fear rogue factions and foreign Islamist militants are seeking to exploit the rebellion.

Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Syria's population, which is home to some of the oldest churches in the world.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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