The following is a rough translation and slightly abridged from a French-language report dated April 1 2012, of atrocities against civilian populations, refugees, and religious minorities, by the armed Syrian opposition, in the area of Convent of St. James the Mutilated, Qara, Syria (Monastère St Jacques le Mutilé, Qâra). The eyewitness account, including photographs, is by the convent's leader, Mother Agnès Mariam de la Croix. The convent website includes other eyewitness accounts (not assessed), including by Sister Claire-Marie. Also un-assessed is a video interview with Mother Agnès Mariam de la Croix.
Notably, Mother Agnès Mariam de la Croix documents atrocities by Syrian armed opposition gangs, which they film or photograph and supply to the media as alleged "government atrocities."
News from Qâra: More than 300 Sunni families from Bab Amro sought refuge among the residents. We did what we could to help them; I personally intervened to free 70 militants imprisoned since the Syrian army came through our village... they had been beaten to get them to confess to misdeeds tied to terrorist acts by the armed bands. That's how our stone-cutter lost his dentures.
We declared our monastery open to receive refugees and disaster victims. We've been told that some 100 children between 1 and 10 years old were pulled from the rubble and have not yet found their parents. We are trying to help them, and can take some in, once the paperwork is established. This depends on the minister of social affairs. There, too, your gifts are most welcome.
News from Homs: In Homs, population 1 million, two-thirds of the people have fled the area. More than 90% of the Christians were forced out, often without being able to take anything with them. Several hundred Christian families have abandoned Homs and the Province to seek refuges in the Valley of the Christians, Damascus, or its Province. ... Some families went back to survey their possessions. One woman told us this grotesque anecdote: "We opened the door and voilà, the living room was full of people. They were wearing our pajamas and eating from our plates.... Embarrassed, their leader said, 'Whenever you want you can have your house back.' But reality was obvious. We had to leave them alone and give in to the obvious. Our home was no longer our own."
Progressively but effectively, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition is carrying out what one would call "demographic redistribution." Thanks to the snipers and acts of criminal aggression, they harass the disapproved civilian population: Alawite, Christian, Shi'ite minorities, and many "moderate" Muslims who have no desire to participate in dissident activities. This isn't massive genocide but liquidation, bit by bit.
Since August 2011 and especially since November when we saw the situation with our own eyes in visit Homs and Kusayr, we had confirmed intelligence of acts of barbarism against the civilian population to force them to withdraw from ordinary civic life, thereby paralyzing the institutions of the state.
From the beginning of the school year, repeated abuse against schools were noted: kidnapping the teaching staff, both men and women; harassment of students; burning or bombing school buildings. This led progressively to the shutdown of schools and then universities.
Minorities in the neighborhoods controlled by armed bands linked to the Syria opposition were targetted for extortion: their goods were looted, their autos requisitioned, many were taken hostage simply because they were from a religious minority, and not released unless they could come up with ransom (which created counter-kidnapping, with negotiations for swaps of one hostage for the other).
Still, all actors in civil life were the preferential targets of hidden terrorism by the armed resistance: taxi drivers, street vendors, mailmen, and especially civil functionaries were innocent victims of acts that went from simple assassination to gratuitous barbarity: their throats were slashed, mutilated, disemboweled, cut into pieces, thrown into street corners or public trashcans. There was no hesitation about shooting at children, probably just to create distress and hopelessness, as happened with little Sari, the nephew of our stone-cutter. These acts of atrocity were then exploited by the media to impute the responsibility was on the government forces.
We were taken by surprise ourselves by this tactic, during a visit to Homs. That day we counted some hundred bodies arriving at the hospitals, victims of the fury of opposition-linked armed bands. Going along Ave. Wadi Sayeh, we were surprised by a burned out car; a man had just been attacked by part of the armed gangs, because he refused to close his shop. His car was blown up, and he was literally "hacked to pieces" and tossed under the storefront window. At the moment we were coming, passersby were gathering. We were surprised that several of them opened their mobile phones and were filming, and we overheard one of them say, doubtless talking to one of the satellite TV networks: "this is what Syrian citizens endure at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's death squads." We photographed this event, and we then proceeded to take the body of the poor killed man to the hospital.
1. General view of the attack. Above, a group with a man in read look at the murdered man before his gutted shop.
2. Instead of bringing help to the murdered person, the onlookers filmed it, as you can clearly see in the photo, getting Al Jazeera to believe that the state had perpetrated the crime.
With the fall of Baba Amro, the fighters and their families filed into Nazihin and Ashiri and infiltrated the Christian neighborhoods of Warcheh and Salibi. Christians' houses were requisitioned.
3. [at the end, after Conclusions] The hospital, where I knelt to pray before the body of the man so hideously mutilated. [the photo is shocking, but misplaced on the webpage, so you can't read the caption]
In and around Hamidiyeh, up to Wadi Sayeh and even as far as Bustan Diwan, the same scenario played out: Armed gangs got the Christians to leave, sometimes by force, and looted their houses, and then put displaced Sunni families in them, or used them as military posts. We were told that the armed gangs dug holes in the walls separating the housing, in order to go throughout the neighborhood without going out into the street. Entire neighborhoods were transformed in this sort of blockhaus. [sic]
The neighborhoods of Bab Sbah, Warcheh and part of Hamidyeh were emptied of their residents for the reasons we said above. Bands of Islamist terrorists invades these places, took over the houses, looted and them burned them, alleging that government forces had pillaged them. The terrorists, before going into neighborhoods inhabited by religious minorities wrecked them themselves with mortars, rockets, or Israeli-made LAU missiles. They do this against unarmed civilian populations and in places where there is no presence of the regular military. It is false to say that the civilian population is caught in the cross-fire. The truth is the in several places the Christian neighborhoods are the targets of systematic bombing by armed gangs, to take revenge for the fact that the Christians won't join the opposition.
According to the Catholic agency, Fides, the armed bands' maneuver is to enter the majority Christian neighborhoods in order to retrench there. A huge drama ensues: the armed bands ring the neighborhood with explosives, threatening to blow the whole place up if the regular army moves forward.
We should say that there is a lot of confusion with the respect to full-fledged adherents of the opposition's armed branch. Just as there are several factions, independent of each other, their abuses have different motivations. Don't be hasty to discredit the testimony of Christians who have experienced real "persecution" at their hands. It's no mystery to anyone that the Salafists are active in many places in Homs, in particular, and in Syria in general. However, it is also true that in general, Christians are not under a systematic and general persecution, because Salafist grouplets are not everywhere.
I'm in the process of translating an article which offers interesting clarification on the presence of the Salafists in Syrian and Lebanon.
Last minute news: The famous "Curé de Bab Sbah" who heroically stayed put to serve his parishioners at the risk of his life was forced to leave. His car was stolen, his house and those of his relatives were invaded by militias, who stole everything. Even the lots of humanitarian aid from Caritas destined for the disaster victims were requisitioned by the militias. The Father took impressive videos of what's left of the Christian quarter. You would think it was Beirut at the worst moments of its two-year war.
From elsewhere, we have learned that Jesuits fathers have assigned armed young men to defend their convents and possessions. Let's hope this is enough to keep them safe and sound.
Finally, sadder news: The young girl, R.S., Greek Orthodox, who was seized three weeks ago from Bustan Diwan in the Christian quarter of Homs, was returned to her family in an appalling state. She said that she had been taken by armed men past the Palmyra traffic circle at the south entrance to Homs, and there some 30 men raped her. She is now in hospital in Damascus, in a lamentable state, and in shock. She heard the men tell her that Sheikh Arour had allowed it, as spoils of war.
The brother of the Greek Orthodox cure of Doueir, Father Tomeh Haddad was kidnapped by rebels, who are demanding EU200,000.
Situation in Kusayr: Kusayr is a large suburb of Homs, on the border of Lebanon. The situation is dramatic: The minorities are victims of terrible abuses, several innocent people have died, assassinated. André Arbache, 30, a young husband, was kidnapped, and at this point, nothing is known about him. The terrorists arrested by security forces confessed that his throat was slit, according the "Nahhr" ritual, the method by which al-Qaeda deals with "renegades."
The Christian Kasouha family, the largest in Kusayr, has lost several of its members, cold-bloodedly slaughtered. They speak of old feuds. Not true. One well-known clique in the village slandered this family by farm the most numerous and most representative in order to justify all the violence against Kusayr and its Christians. The latter were massacred after having suffered for months under atrocities by armed gangs, who, nonetheless have been presented to everyone as being among the valorous resistance factions seeking to install democracy. In reality, these armed gangs have applied the law of the jungle: either they are seeking to revive the old demons of communal friction, or they are, as they are also doing in Homs, attempting to bring about religious warfare.
Several Christians in Kusayr were slaughtered, sometimes dismembered, in order to incite the population to flee. Since all this is enough to empty Kusayrs of its Christian residents, the terrorists have committed themselves to openly attacking the Christian neighborhoods. They pounded them with mortars and rockets, then entered them, throwing the inhabitants out and killing any recalcitrants. The houses of Christians have been systematically destroyed or burned, after being looted. In more distant quarters that have not yet been invaded by terrorists, and where many Christians seek refuge with family, the houses of Christians are constant targets of mortar fire. That is how the home of our curé, Father Georges Louis, was struck full force by four shells, and totally destroyed.
Keep in mind that these bombardments are not taking place in the context of an firefight with the Syrian Army, but constituted gratuitous aggression on an unarmed civilian population.
Latest news: The Kusayr Christians have heard the Islamists confirm repeatedly that the local coordinating committees have already distributed the real estate and personal property of Christians to Sunni families. This project is however in the execution phase. One woman who leads the opposition in Kusayrs, Oum Zahreddine Zhouri has just announced that the "possessions of Christians were distributed to Muslims as spoils of war," and that's what happened in effect, at least for the houses and shops in the East Souk neighborhood, which was entirely overrun by armed bands. The Christians were all thrown out, their houses were looted and completely burned. We are confirming the figures given by the agency Fides: most of the 10,000 Christians of Kusayr were compelled to leave their houses and possessions. They sought refuges in the vicinity or fled toward Damascus, the Valley of the Christians, or toward Lebanon where we are informed that many Alawites and Christians have chosen to take up residence in coastal or mountain towns, and where more than 60 Christian families from Kusayr found refuge in the town of Zahlé.
Several hard-hitting examples of savage acts committed by armed gangs tied to the opposition:
When the regular army seized Baba Amro, the terrorists gathered their hostages (Alawites and Christians) into a building in Khalidiyeh, which they blew up, creating a terrible massacre, and attributing it to the regular forces. But while this act was imputed to the regular forces, including the Arab League, the proof and eyewitnesses are irrefutable: It's a maneuver by the armed gangs tied to the opposition.
The Al Amoura family, from the village of Al Durdâk, in the environs of Homs, was exterminated by Wahhabi terrorists. The 41 people in this family's throats were slit on the same day. Another massacre was perpetrated by the Syrian Free Army in retreat from Baba Amro: It halted near Rableh, on the Lebanese border and massacred 14 members of an Alawite family in Hasibiyeh.
It has now been a year that I've been looking into the situation in Syria, to try to understand it. I've gone three times into the hot spots of our diocese, and I can say that I've become an eyewitness. In looking back, I see that I was not mistaken in my forecasts. With Belgian journalists, we were the first in the world to detail the "unidentified armed gangs." Today, these gangs are identified. We can give them a name: They are grouped under the title Syrian Free Army, whether they are Salafist or Wahhabi, that is, ultra-radical paramilitary formations.
We thank all the authorities who, over the past year, have called on the Syrian regime, even if so often, it was mistaken and because of bad intelligence, to stop the violence against the civilian population. But, what of the abuses by the Syrian opposition? Or rather, the armed factions who call themselves that? Today, the evil is done. What we feared is in the process of taking place: The exodus of Christians from Syria is beginning. They are joined by their brothers and sisters of other religions. We're reminded of the exodus of Christians from Iraq. We hope that the tendency will be stemmed by a halt to hostilities and the establishment of dialogue among all components of the Syrian people.
We are all for freedom and democracy.
Unfortunately, the noble objectives brandished by the Syrian opposition are have been infected with the virus of Islamism. In praising the opposition to the heavens — at first quite rightly — everything that the phony Syrian Human Rights Observatory said was believed without verification, and then the "local coordinating committees." So, under the press of necessity, these organisms put out more than a little doctored intelligence. Not only was the information offered one-sided and partisan, but often it was truncated and falsified. Reality no longer conformed to their fastidious statements. In any case, events led me to think, which consoles, that the international community itself is in the process of supplying the thesis of a perversion in the Syrian opposition, which became, unbeknownst to many of its supporters, a cover for radical Sunnism.
The mainstream press is beginning, bit by bit to understand the reality of the Syrian conflict in revealing certain of its far too long hidden sides: The presence of armed factions, whose objective is to create all the pieces for a scenario for religious warfare, like that in Lebanon. This explains the relentless fury suffered for months by the Alawites at the hands of armed gangs. The Christians, too, have been victims but to a lesser degree. The objective of the armed groups was to push the minorities to arm themselves, in order to explode the religious war. But this reaction never came. Aside from isolated cases, minorities did not get weapons. They waited patiently for the forces of law and order to come and protect them. Thus, they paid a very heavy tribute in blood, in awaiting their deliverance. History will pay homage to the maturity of the Syrian people, who by its wisdom of millennia, refused to descend to the worst, when everything was at its disposition to wreak vengeance on "the other." It must also be said that the majority of Muslims in Syria denounced the Salafists, and took their distance from Wahhabism. They say that all extremism is a deformity, and that Salafism, inspired by Wahhabism, became a heresy especially when it took recourse to eliminating the "kuffar" or "renegades," in fact, any person who does not agree with its foundations.
Definitively, the West, hooked on tendentious information, massively fooled in applying to these heterodox Islamist groupings the title "Free Syrian Army." You have to distinguish things in order not to favor the worst.
And what more need be said? Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to the "Syrian National Council" to invite it to denounce the acts of barbarity against the Syrian civilian population and forces of order, acts contrary to the Charter of the Rights of Man and the Geneva Convention, committed by armed gangs affiliated with the opposition. The U.S. ambassador to Damascus bemoaned the unacceptable violence of armed gangs acting in the name of the opposition. The major powers and the international media openly spoke of a religious tendency among certain armed branches linked to the Syrian opposition, among whom were uncovered factions from al-Qaeda, the Salafists, and the Wahhabites. Pax Christi Canada addressed a letter to the world leaders to demand they no longer intervene into the Middle East by military means. France, for its part, refused entry to Sheikh Qaradawi, who ceaselessly incited on Al Jazeera Arabic for a religious war. The Merah affair in Toulouse will contribute to opening the eyes to the dangers for the Al Jazeera network, whose local employees visiting Montparnasse, were searched by French police.
While the international community seek to bring dialogue and appeasement, it is nonetheless unacceptable that reporters and officials continue to blindly believe the statements of tendentious intelligence networks which cover for the crimes of the armed gangs affiliated with the Syrian opposition, lest it be highly displeased. By ignoring the abuses and crimes of these armed gangs and hailing their "struggle," they encourage their crimes and provide no aid to those people in danger. Only objective information, without taking sides, faithful to the reality of the facts, can help stop the violence and bring all factions into dialogue in view of a truly democratic process. Evil has to be exposed wherever it is, without soul-searching. A minimum of verification is [de mise] in the confusion that prevails.
We raise our prayers that Syria be purified and pacified from this terrible experience, and that the voice of the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people, of all confessions together, be heard: implement the necessary reforms without breaking the national pact, nor descending into religious war, to the contrary to forgive and begin the road to reconciliation and dialogue.
In this glorious Easter season, may the Lord conqueror over death visit us as He did His Mother and His Apostles, and that He evangelize us with His Peace, founded on destroying the wall of hatred within His Body given for us. He alone teaches us to love our neighbor, even to deliver ourselves up to him; He alone give us the Light in order for us not to be dupes of the system, but to discern in freedom what is good and proper for difficult times likes these.
This is the message that we would wish to have those understand about Syria, both those who are near and those far away.
Qâra, April 1, Palm Sunday 2012.