The international community and global media are focusing a lot of attention of late on the brutal tactics being employed by the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as he battles a year-long insurgency that has recently blossomed into full-scale civil war. In the process, the Syrian opposition forces, collectively known as the Free Syrian Army, have been primarily portrayed in a positive light.
But a trickle of reports from sources in embattled Syrian towns reveal that the Sunni-led revolutionaries are guilty of at least as many war crimes as Assad, especially against the country's Christian minority.
In the latest issue of Israel Today, we wrote about how Syria's minority communities actually prefer Assad, who is himself from the small Alawite Muslim minority. They fear the alternative, which is rule by a Sunni majority that will likely align itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and other regional radicals.
Their fears appear increasingly justified.
Two weeks ago, the Catholic news agency Fides reported that it had received word from Syrian Orthodox Church sources that 90 percent of Christians in the Syrian city of Homs had been driven from their homes by Sunni rebels.
According to Fides, the Faruq Brigade of the Free Syrian Army had threatened to kill any Christians who did not leave, and then confiscated their homes and resettled them with Muslim families. The sources told Fides that the Faruq Brigade is made up at least partially by members of Al Qaeda and other Wahhabi groups.
The exodus from Homs began back in February, according to the Christian relief agency Barnabas Fund, which reported at the time that at least 200 local Christians had been massacred, while more had been kidnapped, tortured and ransomed by Muslim forces. Still more Christians were forced to act as human shields for the rebel fighters.
Church leaders called the situation in Homs an "ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians," and said that the 1,000 Christians still in the city are living in a constant state of fear. Homs was previously home to some 50,000 Christians.
In a follow-up, the Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo, Mgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro told Fides that while he could not confirm the reports out of Homs, he had witnessed the similar targeting of Christians in Aleppo.
"Last Sunday, a car bomb exploded...in the vicinity of the school of the Franciscan fathers. By a miracle a massacre of children was avoided... only because the Franciscans, sensing danger, made the children leave 15 minutes before the usual time," said Nazzaro, who lamented by the current media silence has allowed the Islamists to advance their anti-Christian agenda.
Issam Bishara, regional director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), told the National Catholic Reporter that contrary to the picture being painted by the mainstream media, Assad's government forces are "still providing protection to the Christian communities in almost all places where the regime is still controlling the ground."
Bishara said that should Assad fall, it is almost certain that Sunni political forces aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafi groups will take power, as they did in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, leaving the region's Christians even more vulnerable.