By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday, January 6, called rebels “enemies of God,” amid reports that some of them beheaded a Christian man and fed his body to dogs.
“This is a conflict of those who wanted to take revenge against the people to fragment Syria,” Assad said in his first public speech before the nation in months, broadcast live on state television.
“Those are the enemies of the people and the enemies of God. And the enemies of God will go to hell,” he told his supporters from the state of the Damascus opera house.
He said he was prepared to hold a dialogue with the opposition, if it observes a cease-fire first. Opposition leaders dismissed the offer, saying it was devoid of substance.
“We are in a state of real war, in every aspect of the words. And when we’re in a state of war, all of our politics has to be concentrated on winning this war,” the president said.
He denied his country’s armed forces are behind attacks that have claimed some 60,000 lives according to United Nations estimates, since the uprising against the regime began in March 2011.
His speech, often interrupted by loud applause from supporters, came amid reports of atrocities against Christians by rebels.
In one of the more serious cases, a prominent nun said taxi driver Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped after his brother was heard complaining that fighters against the ruling regime behaved like bandits.
She told Britain’s The Daily Mail newspaper that his headless corpse was found by the side of the road, surrounded by hungry dogs. He reportedly recently married and was soon to be a father.
“His only crime was his brother criticized the rebels, accused them of acting like bandits, which is what they are,” said Sister Agnes-Miriam, mother superior of Syria’s Monastery of St James the Mutilated.
“The free and democratic world is supporting extremists,” she added, speaking from her sanctuary in Lebanon, where many Syrian Christians have been hiding. “They want to impose Sharia Law and create an Islamic state in Syria.”
She condemned Britain and the west for supporting the rebels despite what she and other Christians say is growing evidence of human rights abuses. Murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery are becoming commonplace, she was quoted as saying.
Analysts and locals say foreign Islamic fighters are trying to infiltrate the Free Syrian Army, the main but fractured opposition force, or set up their own groups.
Amid the ongoing violence, at least 80,000 Christians have been forced from their homes in the Homs region, alone, she said. Over 300,000 Christian Syrians are believed to be refugees.
Some Christians support the rebels saying Christian silence about abuses of the Assad government could make them more
vulnerable to reprisals.
Minority Christians, who comprise less then five percent of heavily Islamic population, are increasingly in the crossfire, with the United Nations calling the violence “overtly sectarian”.
While rebels tend to be Sunni Muslims, the majority religion in Syria, President Bashar’s government is mainly Alawite, a minority Muslim group.
With the Christian minority under pressure to choose between the autocratic president or rebels, believers fear Syria will become another Iraq, where poor security after the U.S. invasion in 2003 has allowed militant Islamic groups to target them for intimidation, killings and kidnappings.
As in Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq.
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