BREAKING NEWS: Another Christian Elementary School Attacked by Syrian Rebels

Photo of al-Manar School playground in Bab Touma, Damascus

Note: Levant Report has received multiple reports that the shelling of Christian neighborhoods in Damascus from outlying rebel positions has been constant for over the past year and has not ceased. We reported on the shelling of Damascus’ largest church as Sunday services were underway last October -this being but one example of what has become a frequent occurrence. Syrian Christians believe their neighborhoods, churches, and schools are specifically targeted by rebel attacks. At the same time, the United States has increased the sophistication of weaponry it is putting into rebel hands; and this includes the necessary training needed to operate such advanced weapons.

DAMASCUS, April 15 (Xinhua News Agency) — A child was killed and more than 36 others wounded Tuesday when a mortar shell slammed into a schoolyard in a predominantly Christian district of the capital Damascus, the state news agency SANA and witnesses said.

The mortar round struck the al-Manar elementary school in Bab Touma, east of Damascus, killing a child and injuring 36 others, according to the report.

Witnesses said the mortar struck the al-Manar’s schoolyard in the morning when the schoolchildren were gathering at the yard before entering the classrooms, adding some of the injured kids were in critical conditions.

Aside from the attack on Bab Touma’s school, another mortar round struck near a church in the nearby Dweila neighborhood, injuring five people, according to SANA.

The attack came one day after at least 12 people were killed by mortar attacks against Damascus and a blast of a booby-trapped car in the central province Homs.

The rebels have rained down the capital and other government- controlled areas across Syria with dozens of mortar shells recently, leaving tens of civilians dead and many others wounded.

Attacks targeting at kids have made many parents refraining from sending their children to schools, especially in areas, which get hit by mortars on daily basis, like the suburb of Jaramana, where at least 36 mortar shells landed on Monday alone.

Syrian troops have recaptured several villages and towns in central Syria, cutting off main supply routes for terrorists from neighboring Lebanon. The army tightened the noose around armed groups in the countryside of Damascus and blocked several attempts to storm the capital.

The long-running crisis started in mid-March 2011 with anti- government protests, but rapidly evolved into a civil war joined by radical jihadist movements. More than 150,000 people have been killed so far.


Renewed Armenian Genocide?: Armenians in the Levant Make International Plea for Help

Cartoon by Lucine Kasbarian. Used with permission.

Decades from now, all over the world, younger generations will have no idea what jewels of civilization once existed.

Lucine Kasbarian, syndicated journalist, author, and political cartoonist

From the Cairo based AL-AHRAM WEEKLY:

A brutal three-day attack by Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front and Ansar Al-Sham started early Friday morning, 21 March, and took the lives of 80 people. Rebels crossed the Turkish border and attacked Armenians living in Kessab, looted and occupied their homes and stores. The majority of the population of Kessab was evacuated by community leaders to safer villages.

On Tuesday night, Armenians of Kessab made an appeal to Armenians across the world:

“This is a call to all Armenians. This is a call to humanity. The world needs to hear the truth. Erdogan and his government are war criminals. We need your help. We need you to take action. Our lives depend on the chance that you will do something to make sure we too don’t die. We were forced out of our homes and our town with nothing but the clothes we wear. If we stayed to gather even the bare necessities, we would have definitely died. Most of us cannot even escape because we don’t have our passports or documents of identification. Please, invoke the intervention of your governments, of the UN, of any other authority that you believe can help us. All we want to do is live. If you ignore this, we all will die a horrible death at the hands of these terrorists, by being butchered in cold blood like many other Armenians in Aleppo, Yacoubiyeh, Ghenemiyeh and around Syria. If Kessab people were not informed to leave their houses, the world would have silently witnessed yet another genocide and stood by while the media gave them yet another version of lies.”

Historic Day: “Al-Qaida’s flag now flies on the Mediterranean Sea” with NATO member help

Dr. Joshua Landis, internationally recognized Syria expert and founder of Syria Comment, linked to the above photo on his Twitter account today (3/29). Landis commented: “Al-Qaida’s flag now flies on the Mediterranean Sea” -presumably in acknowledgement of the historic precedent this sets.

The Syrian rebels are in the midst of a new coastal offensive in Northwest Syria – a region that has historically been a stronghold of government support. This offensive has the full backing of Turkey and other NATO countries, including the United States.

The Kassab border crossing with Turkey, recently under rebel control, has become an open access point for Al-Nusra and other terrorists. Video footage has recently emerged, confirmed as authentic by multiple Syria experts, of Al-Qaida affiliate terrorists flowing freely into Syria from the Turkish side of the border.

It is not merely that the Turkish authorities have failed to seal off the border, but that Turkey is actively engaged in a rear support capacity for Al-Qaida operations in Syria. Last week, Dr. Landis also pointed to the following on his Twitter account: the below photo posted by Turkish journalist Ali Ornek with the caption, “Injured militants cross the border & taken to hospital with cars allegedly belongs to Turkish intelligence.”

According to last week’s leak of Turkish officials discussing Syria war plans, Turkey was set to potentially invade Syrian territory based on the pretext of fighting ISIS and other Al-Qaida groups. In short, Turkey would lay blame for a terrorist attack launched from Northern Syria on the very rebels it is currently letting flood through border crossings such as Kassab.

While the leaked discussion was acknowledged as authentic by the Erdogan government, and this open admission of a false flag planned attack is everywhere in Turkish and Middle East press, it got buried with remote reference at the end of a news week in the U.S. – most articles merely emphasized the YouTube ban enacted by Turkey a result of the leak.

The below photo is the beautiful Armenian Christian town of Kassab, recently “liberated” by Al-Qaida affiliated forces, with the backing NATO countries.

Embedded image permalink

Multiple reports and photos are circulating of beheadings, church desecrations, and the raising of Al-Qaida flags over churches and public buildings. Kassab residents are telling international reporters that initial heavy shelling, which kicked off the rebel operation, came from the Turkish side of the border.

The Armenian Christian residents also accuse Turkey of full collaboration with the rebels. The town has now been completely liquidated of its Christian inhabitants. MSN UK reports:

The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church.

This is textbook genocide. The Armenian inhabitants of this region are not politically active – they are in a sense long-term refugees settled in Northern Syria as a result of the infamous 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks. Are we witnessing a renewed Armenian Genocide by proxy?

At the very least, this day, March 29, 2014, will go down in history as the day Al-Qaida waved its flag victorious on the Mediterranean Sea under NATO’s watch.

Al-Akhbar News: “The churches of Yabrud in ruins”; The Independent: “act of sacrilege”

(Source: Al-Akhbar, Photo by Haitham Moussaw)

Journalists are touring Yabrud after the Syrian Arab Army took it back from the rebels a week ago. They are noting what appears to be the systematic destruction and purposeful desecration of churches by Yabrud’s recent rebel occupants. See Haitham Moussaw’s photos of St. Mary Greek Catholic Church in “The churches of Yabrud in ruins”.

Veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk was also in Yabrud last week. See the following excerpts from his excellent report, “On the march with Assad’s army” in The Independent:

The battle for Yabroud is over, but its Greek Catholic church has been savagely vandalised by its former rebel occupants, its streets carpeted with cartridge cases, its houses smashed with shell holes. Syria’s soldiers – along with a host of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon – watched General Badi Ali raise the government flag on Monday, too late to save the beautiful frescoes slashed into ribbons by the men of the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front men of the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front in Syria’s oldest church.

The Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady is a place of shame, of burnt copies of the New Testament, paintings slashed with knives – many were lying in strips of gold and red fabric beside the altar’s broken cross – and mosaics chiselled from the walls. Sceptics may ask if the regime performed this act of sacrilege – for the benefit of cameras – but it must have taken weeks to have wrecked this place of worship with its ancient columns and to have gouged out the eyes of the mosaic saints.     

The Islamists had attacked a mosaic of St George and the Dragon – and had even gouged out the dragon’s eyes as well as those of the unfortunate knight. You cannot call such sacrilege an infamy. But you have to ask how Syria can ever repair relations between its Muslims and Christians after such vandalism. Perhaps the answer is never, although in an act of immense courage, the Muslim civilians of this ancient town protected their Christian neighbours to the end…

…The road into the town was torn up, its buildings, shops and stores ransacked, its people hiding in fear. I found one woman only in a street of Ottoman houses so old that their walls were made of clay and water. She still kept cows in her basement. Um Qusai – hers was the little boy – talked of how she and up to 70 other women staged a demonstration in the street against the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, some of whom did not even speak Arabic…

…There were other comments which were deeply disturbing. Um Qusai claimed that the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters – who like her were Sunni Muslims – forced the people in the town to pay high prices for the food they brought in. The Christians had to pay even higher prices as a tax because of their religion.  And much of the food, she said, was UN humanitarian aid from across the border in Lebanon – presumably from the refugee camps in which supporters of the rebels have sought safety…

…The Syrians officers said they had found Egyptian and Emirates passports in the town. They were real, they said, and were taken from the corpses of their dead owners – they could, alas, not produce them for me to see – although they had names…

Read Robert Fisk’s entire article here.

ORONTES WEBSITE REPORTS: These are the fruits of “revolution” in Syria

LEVANT REPORT EDITOR’S NOTE: Excellent reporting and news roundup by Orontes: Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict. The Orontes website is a reliable source for all those desiring news and information on the plight of Syria’s Christians from an insider’s perspective. The world has forgotten Syria’s Christians and other religious minorities – the world has ignored common Syrians who continually voice demands for a stable, safe, pluralistic, and secular Syria. But we must not ignore what’s happening daily – please join us in spreading the truth about the character and nature of “opposition” fighters in Syria. Remember especially that the governments of the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are training, arming, and funding the rebel insurgency in Syria – and this by their own admission! Speaking as an American veteran (USMC 2000-2004), I am shocked by what my country is doing. This has nothing to with Assad and his crimes and shortcomings, but it has everything to do with U.S. leaders choosing to further destabilize Syria while arming radical groups that are accountable to no one – a return to the American backed death squads of 1980’s Central America.

                                                                                                                                                   In Raqqa, Syria ISIS terrorists force all women, Muslim and Christian alike to live under a Talabin like interpretation of Sharia law which includes a harsh dress code.

Raqqa Syria – “all sisters to wear the full-face veil in public, in line with Islamic morality. Women must wear Islamic dress, which consists of the full-face veil and an abaya to cover  the whole body, in addition to gloves. Women are not allowed to raise their voices in the street or walk at a late hour without a male guardian.” -ISIS

Contact Lost with Maloula Nuns Abducted in Qalamoun

News via Orthodox news outlet Pravmir

Screen capture  form a video showing the kidnapped nuns from the convent of St Tekla, Maaloula.                                                                                                                                             Contact has been lost with the nuns of Syria’s Maloula town abducted by armed opposition groups in northern Damascus city of Qalamoun, according to a source familiar with the negotiations on Thursday.

The source said that the nuns are likely to have been transferred out of Yabroud city.

“Contact has been lost with the nuns since yesterday, and probably they have been transferred to an area between Yabroud and the Lebanese border,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“Contacts are underway to determine their destiny and to secure their safety, and religious authorities will issue a statement soon about this fateful humanitarian issue.”

The source pointed out that the nuns had been kidnapped from the monastery of Mar Takla in Maloula by a group of al-Nusra Front terrorists, led by a man calling himself Abu Malek al-Kuwaiti, who has contacts with them while detained in a house in Yabroud.

“The 14 detained are 13 Lebanese nun and one Syrian, in addition to three women working in the monastery, which was concerned in orphaned children,” he explained.

He also said the kidnappers requested during this long period of negotiation a group of demands which are “difficult to achieve” in order to release the detainees.

“Among those demands are the release of Syrian women from the regime prisons, withdrawal of the Syrian army from Christian religious sites such as Saidnaya, and getting supplies, especially bread, in addition to the military demands regarding the Yabrood battle.”

Original article here.

Raqqa School Girls arrested by Terrorists

 News via Syriac news outlet Gazire

A recent photo from the city of Raqqa in northern Syria where women are now forced to wear full Islamic dress including a face veil and gloves.
A recent photo from the city of Raqqa in northern Syria where women are now forced to wear full Islamic dress including a face veil and gloves.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Levant) ISIS who have imposed strict Taliban like Sharia law on the inhabitants of Raqqa city are  said to have arrested 10 school girls aged between 15 and 17 years old. They were arrested outside their schools for violating elements of the new laws imposed by ISIS.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Although the students were clothed in accordance with the dictates of the terrorists, their eyebrows and/or some hair was visible and this  was sufficient for the fanatics to detain them for breaking the new laws. One among the school staff was also arrested and afterwards had to be hospitalized, possibly due to a beating received while detained.

Full article here in Arabic.

ISIS Strangle Girl to Death for breaking Sharia law

Screenshot of a graphic video shows a girl being strangled to death in Manbij, Aleppo, Syria for refusing to conform to the extremist Islamic beliefs imposed by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Levant) terrorist group. The footage, shows a girl being strangled with a piece of metal wire by a hooded executioner.

Interview with Fr. Joseph Huneycutt: Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict

Delegation to Damascus Christian delegation to Damascus meets with President Assad of Syria in September 2011. Fr. Joseph Huneycutt stands third from Assad’s left. Photo credit:, Used with permission.

Two-and-a-half years ago Fr. Joseph Huneycutt traveled to Syria as part of an official delegation of Christian pastors and leaders to investigate the emerging political crisis and to assess the situation of Syria’s Christians. The September 2011 trip was sponsored by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, and a report of the delegation’s findings was issued here. Now in its third year, the Syria conflict has taken countless lives and has left much of the country destroyed. Reports seem to come in weekly detailing the struggles of Syria’s ancient Christian community. Reports of kidnapping, murder, rape, torture, and destruction of churches at the hands of rebel insurgents are now a common theme of the Syria crisis. Last December, Fr. Joseph’s parish, St. Joseph Orthodox church in Houston, hosted the “Hope, Humanity, Healing” benefit concert to spread awareness of the plight of Syria’s Christians and to raise funds for the relief of all suffering innocents of the conflict. Fr. Joseph agreed to speak with Levant Report this week:

Levant Report: Thank you for agreeing to talk to us about the Christian situation in Syria. Last December, your parish, St. Joseph Orthodox church, hosted a benefit concert for the Syrian humanitarian crisis. What prompted you to put together such an event and how did the community respond?

Fr. Joseph: The event came together thanks to the dream of St Joseph parishioner Lama Nashawati DeVries, a classically trained professional pianist, along with her brother Deacon George (Bassam) Nashawati, a violinist for the San Antonio Symphony.  They teamed up with other Houston area performers, both within and without the parish:  Christine Yacoub, Len Verrett, Mariam Haddad, Osama Raad, Tracey Parker, Dr Bill Attra and the St Romanos Chorale, and pulled together a special night of entertainment:  “Hope, Humanity, Healing – A Musical Offering to Syria.”  It was standing room only in the parish hall; around 250 people came out to enjoy the show and support the cause.  The event raised $18,000 of which the Diocese of Bosra-Hauran, Jabal al-Arab, and the Golan in southern Syria, and the St Gregory Orthodox Society for the Elderly and Orphans in Damascus were the beneficiaries.  Thanks God, it was a very special evening in support of our brothers and sisters in Syria.

LR: The sister diocese to your own (the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America), is the Archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran in southern Syrian. While the destruction of churches and persecution of Christians is well documented in northern Syria, we haven’t heard much out of southern Syria. What do you know of the current Christian situation in southern Syria?

Fr. Joseph: What I can tell you is, though the Christian presence in southern Syria has diminished, the charitable support of refugees continues; those who remain live in danger every moment.  It will take heroic hard work to rebuild – the land and the people – once this war comes to an end.

LR: During September 2011 you were part of a delegation of priests and pastors that traveled to Syria for the express purpose of investigating the political crisis, especially as it impacted the Syrian Christian community. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s final report was generally critical of mainstream reporting of the Syria conflict at that time in American media. The report suggested that the narrative of a mass democratic uprising was flawed, and that there was a dangerous, extremist element within the opposition committing assassinations and terrorist acts. Now, two-and-a-half years after your trip, what is your assessment? Do you think Fr. Patrick’s characterization has been born out?

Fr. Joseph: I believe Fr Patrick’s characterization of the situation as we witnessed it in 2011 was accurate.  For example, one night I came back to the hotel and signed on to America Online.  The news on AOL said:  “Bloodiest Day Yet in Damascus” – it featured a video of a mass demonstration; gunshots could be heard.  Later, I turned on the TV and saw that certain news channels were reporting the same and showing footage of other massive demonstrations in Damascus.  These networks, like AOL, were not local to the Syrian situation.  Our group had traveled all over Damascus that day.  Granted, Damascus is a big city – but our experience on that day, singled out by the foreign news media, could not have been more different.  We saw no signs of unrest or demonstration, but did see families picnicking on the side of the road, shoppers going about their business, etc.

While speaking in Canada and the northeastern US in the months following the 2011 trip, I reported what I had actually seen and heard while in Syria.  Invariably my words were met with suspect curiosity, even disbelief, based on what my hearers had witnessed on American television.  Ironically, I  sounded like a propagandist!

LR: What was the most surprising or unexpected discovery for you personally while serving on this delegation to Syria?

Fr. Joseph: The gracious hospitality of the Syrian people never ceases to amaze!  It was also surprising to witness, with my own eyes, the extent to which televised media actually makes news (rather than just reporting) which shapes public opinion and governmental policy.

LR: While major Middle East media outlets like Lebanon’s The Daily Star covered the 2011 Christian delegation to Syria, there was not much notice of it at all in mainstream American press, other than some local and church news sources. Did you feel that you were ignored? Why do you think there wasn’t much notice of this historic trip, which even included a high level meeting and interview with President Assad himself?

Fr. Joseph: I traveled with the 2011 Syrian delegation because I was invited by his Eminence, Metropolitan Philip (Saliba); the intent was for us to witness the state of the Christians there.  Other than fear, given the news, I had no expectations of self, motive, media, or anything else.

We had almost two hours with President Assad, just our delegation and an interpreter; he addressed all of our questions and concerns, even those critical of himself, without hesitation.  Much of what he said has proven to be as he said; time will tell.  Perhaps our visit served merely as an encouragement to the Syrian faithful.  May God preserve them!

As a side note, a funny story:  My non-Orthodox mom called a few months after our trip to report that our delegation, pictured with President Assad, was shown on some protestant TV program.  They were doing a story about how, in the midst of war, missionaries are bringing the Christian faith to Syria!

LR: With recent reports of Christians in opposition held Raqqa province being forced to live under “dhimmi” status, things are not looking good for the future of Syria’s Christian community. What might American Christians do to help support the continued Christian presence in Syria?”

Fr. Joseph: My heart truly grieves for Syria.  I have been twice, having spent only a few weeks of my life there, but those days are unforgettable.  The unimaginable days which the Syrians now endure will eventually pass.  But for those who endure them, these days will be conversely unforgettable.  I hope American Christians do not believe that this is a war of Syrian Muslims against Syrian Christians – nor even a war between native Syrians.  Pray for the Syrian people!  They are suffering a horrible war which is fueled from many sides whose varied interests are not, primarily, Syria or religious.

Americans are used to opening their purse during such calamities.  But, donors need first to find out proper, prudent and safe channels for monetary donations.  That Syrian Christian presence, as old as the Faith itself, is made up of people who may soon make their way into our midst.  May God help us to learn from the long-suffering Syrian people their longstanding ministry of hospitality.

Syrian Christians under ‘dhimmi’ in al-Raqqa

Armenian Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa. Under rebel control, it was turned into a mosque and proselytism center, flying the black flag of Al-Qaeda (ISIS)
Armenian Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa. Under rebel control, it was turned into a mosque and proselytism center, flying the black flag of Al-Qaeda (ISIS)

Note: Special thanks to our Levant Report contributor in Syria who sent this brief report.

One year ago, the Syrian opposition occupied a small city in eastern Syria called Al-Raqqa. They’ve announced this week the first contract of ZEMMEH ذمة (also “dhimmi”) with Raqqa’s Christians. This word means PROTECTION.
This contract of “protection” with Christians is the first of its kind in modern history. The practice of this contract originated in the era of Mohammad when his armies first occupied cities as they expanded out of the Arabian peninsula. The contract obliges Christians to choose from one of three options: 
  1. Convert to Islam.
  2. Stay Christian and pay extra taxes.
  3. Death by the sword.
According to various news reports, Christians in Al-Raqqa chose to pay extra taxes in order to stay Christian. However, they are not allowed to build churches or make any display of Christian symbolism such as iconography or the wearing of crosses. They are not allowed to sell or drink alcohol, or anything that violates Islamic codes. For example, women are obliged to wear the veil and even men are not allowed to dress in “tempting” clothes (T-shirts are considered tempting.)
Click on the image below to see an original version of the ZEMMEH currently circulating inside Syria. To learn more, see Syria Comment’s analysis.