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Christians in Syria are being deliberately targeted, says report

Christians in Syria are being deliberately targeted by government and rebel forces according to a new report by anti persecution charity Open Doors, which on Tuesday presented its study to parliament.

This report focuses on the Christian community in Syria while also recognising the whole nation is experiencing the crisis.

Open Doors has claimed there is now significant evidence that Syrian Christians are suffering disproportionately and in many cases being targeted because they are Christians.

The charity has launched a global petition that will be presented to the EU and the United Nations through the UK Government that is calling for international action to help Christians in Syria.

The petition says:"We urge those with influence and power to do everything possible to protect all the people of Syria, to safeguard the Christian community, to guarantee access for humanitarian assistance and to establish a new Syria that respects the right to freedom of religion for all."

They have also urged Christians in the UK to pray and donate towards the ongoing aid appeal.

Speaking to Premier, Stephen Rand from the charity has claimed Christians are being deliberately targeted by both sides in the conflict. He said: "the extremists, particularity the Islamists have assumed that Christians are but largely on the Government side and so again they're seen as being part of the enemy, regardless of what the individual views of that particular Christian or of anybody else might be, so they are facing tremendous pressure".

Samir Nassar, the Maronite Catholic Archbishop of Damascus, has stated that the country's Christians will have to 'choose between two bitter chalices: die or leave'.

The charity says it is now hoping the evidence they have presented in the report will encourage UK politicians to act now to protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria and give particular attention to the Christian community, as a minority facing specific vulnerabilities.

Most of Syria's Christian population belong to a number of historic Catholic or Orthodox churches. The country's largest Christian denomination is the Greek Orthodox Church with approximately 500,000 members, followed by the Armenian Orthodox Church with 110,000-160,000 members, and the Syria Orthodox Church with approximately 90,000 members. There are many more denominations; a small percentage of the Christian community belong to evangelical Christian churches.

With the exception of the Armenians and Assyrian/Syriacs, most Syrian Christians are Arameans, but their language is Arabic and they are part of the 'Arab World'. They largely live in the towns, particularly Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.

They are also proportionately better-represented among the higher-educated and higher-income parts of Syrian society, and have been significant participants in economic and political life. There are Christians who are officers in the Syrian Army – which is organised on a non-sectarian basis.

Open Doors claims that before the crisis Christians were tolerated as a respected minority and had freedom of worship, though every Christian meeting was monitored by the secret police. Most denominations were unwilling to take the political and religious risk of openly engaging in evangelism, often formally agreeing not to evangelise among the Muslim population.

Nevertheless, the charity says there is a small number of those from a Muslim background who have chosen to follow Christ. In the past they faced a strong reaction from family and friends; now they are under threat from extremist opposition groups, though pressure from the government has diminished where it has lost control.

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