Almost all the Christians living in the ancient Syrian village of Maaloula, which has been under siege by rebels for more than a week, have fled, according to a senior church leader.
The Damascus-based Greek Melkite Patriarch Gregory Laham III told Vatican Radio that witnesses told him that when the rebels moved into Maaloula they threatened some Christians with death unless they converted to Islam.
The Patriarch on Wednesday celebrated funeral Masses for three Greek Catholics who were shot in Maaloula, where Aramaic, the langauge of Christ, is still spoken and studied.
Some Christians who fled wrote to the United States Congress to alert them of the horror of the attack. They said that members of the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, looted “monasteries and churches, removing sacred images as they went on, ordering residents to abandon their religion, to convert to Islam to save their life”.
“I saw people wearing Al-Nusra headbands who started shooting at crosses,” one resident said to the AFP news agency. One insurgent “put a pistol to the head of my neighbour and forced him to convert to Islam by obliging him to repeat ‘there is no God but [Allah].’ Afterwards they joked, ‘He’s one of ours now.'”