Thousands of Christians are fleeing the Syrian town of Sadad, according to a leading bishop, who has warned of advancing Daesh (ISIS) forces.
Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh told Aid to the Church in Need that 15,000 people had already fled Sadad and nearby Al-Hafar since last Saturday (31st October) when the Islamists begun assaults on nearby towns.
With the jihadists seizing Maheen, a town less than five miles from Sadad, a vast exodus was underway to towns and cities including Homs, nearly 40 miles south, Zaidal and Fairouzeh. ACN has pledged to offer emergency help for refugees and displaced people.
The Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Homs and Hama said: "We are afraid that ISIS... will conquer the town. [If so], we would lose the centre of Christianity in our diocese."
Archbishop Alnemeh said the threat to Sadad remained in spite of the arrival of Syrian government forces.
Father Luka Awad, Archbishop Alnemeh's assistant for emergency aid, told ACN that the jihadists wanted to take Sadad because it is a mainly Christian town. In a reference to Daesh's capture of Qaryatayn, a Christian city in Syria taken last August, he said: "When the ISIS fighters conquered Qaryatayn, they made the threat: 'We will kill all of the Christians in Sadad.'"
Fr Awad added: "My people already experienced a genocide 100 years ago in 1915. Now in the 21st century, we don't need another."
Reports from the region say Christians in Sadad fear a repeat of the Jihadist capture of Sadad in October 2013.
In the few weeks they held Sadad the Islamists killed 45 Christians, before the town was taken by Assad's forces.
Highlighting the emergency situation unfolding this week, Fr Awad said that the people leaving Sadad had fled leaving almost everything behind. He said: "We are doing all we can to help them in their need. And there are many of them. We are currently working to get them registered. For the moment, our greatest worry is finding enough housing for the people."
In an appeal to Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Awad said that he was dependent on the help of ACN and other charities for the provision of food, clothing and other basic aid.
Fr Awad described the Assad government's desperate bid to cling onto the town. He said: "The battles are very brutal. ISIS uses heavy weapons and fights fiercely."
The priest stressed that Sadad was important to the militants for strategic reasons as it is close to the motorway between the Syrian capital, Damascus and Homs, a major city to the north. He added: "Once [Daesh] have conquered Sadad, they will be that much closer to Homs. And the area also has oil."
Fr Awad highlighted the importance of Sadad to Christians, saying: "The people there still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. We have important churches there. It is really a centre of our Christian heritage. Its loss doesn't bear contemplating. We are truly fearing for our cultural heritage. We beg the international community to put an end to this war."
Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the suffering Christians of Syria since war broke out in 2011. By September 2015, £6.13 million (EUR€8.6 million) had been approved for humanitarian and pastoral aid projects.
For more information see: www.acnuk.org
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