Agenzia Fides, the "Information Service of the Pontifical Mission Societies Since 1927," reported June 9 that the entire remaining Christian population of the town of Qusayr, near Homs, Syria,— about 1,000 of the 10,000 who had lived there before the so-called "rebellion" began,— was fleeing "following an ultimatum from the military chief of the armed opposition" there, Abdel Salam Harba. The message was repeated from the minarets of some of the mosques: "'Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, which expires this Friday.' The ultimatum, therefore, expired yesterday, June 8, and produced fear among the Christian population who had begun to hope again after the presence of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, the Jesuit who stayed in Qusayr for a week, with the idea of 'praying and fasting for peace in the midst of the conflict' (see Fides 30/5/2012).
"Now Christian families from Qusayr have begun their exodus of refugees in the valleys and the surrounding countryside. Some have taken refuge with relatives and friends in Damascus. Some families, very few, sought valiantly to stay in their home town, but no one knows what fate they will suffer. Fides sources insist that Islamic Salafist extremist groups, that are in the ranks of the armed opposition, consider Christians 'infidels,' they confiscate the goods, commit brief executions and are ready to start a 'sectarian war.'"
A June 12 report continued, "As anticipated by Fides, some Christians, after the warning, however, chose to remain in Qusayr, exposing themselves to considerable risks. Maurice Bitar was killed by a sniper, with three other men while he was out of the house to buy bread for his family. The Christian inhabitants of Qusayr, local sources of Fides report, suffer harassment such as no vehicular access on streets and the obligation to 'give way' if they meet a Muslim, 'as in the days of the Ottoman caliphate,' note the source of Fides.
"The armed opposition, in fact, as confirmed by numerous observers in Syria and abroad, is gradually radicalizing towards Sunni extremist ideology. There are numerous gangs and military groups that operate in a totally independent manner, outside the coordination of the Free Syrian Army. The ultimatum launched by the faction of Abdel Salam Harba, for example, was not ratified by other groups: in a statement sent to Fides, the coordination of the same Free Syrian Army, stationed at Qusayr, says it is 'shocked by the news' and rejects the ultimatum, saying that it is not responsible and does not share it in any way. Two Catholic priests who fled in recent days from Qusayr, reached by Fides, confirm, however, that they heard 'with their ears'... the ultimatum, repeated from the minarets of mosques, and left the city with many refugee families.
"According to Fides sources, 'the situation is unsustainable in the area and exposed to total lawlessness.' Christians face a harsh reality: they either join the opposition, enlisting their young ones, or are victims of harassment, discrimination, violence. The fate of Christians in Qusayr, concludes the source, could soon touch the 10 thousand faithful who live in other villages in the area, such as Dmeineh, Rableh and Hamra." See www.fides.org