Syr­ian Chris­tian town be­comes front­line with IS

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SADAD, Syria: On the out­skirts of the Syr­ian Chris­tian town of Sadad, chil­dren play in front of a can­non fired just hours ago in an on­go­ing bat­tle against the Is­lamic State group. Sol­diers and pro-regime mili­ti­a­men nearby look on with amuse­ment at the chil­dren, who ap­pear obliv­i­ous to the fact that their an­cient town is now in the sights of the ji­hadist group. Sadad is ma­jor­ity Syr­iac Ortho­dox Chris­tian, and it is be­lieved to be the same town re­ferred to as Zedad in the Old Tes­ta­ment’s “Book of Kings”.

Its an­cient churches have been caught in the cross­fire be­fore, with regime and rebel forces bat­tling for con­trol of the town in Oct 2013. Regime forces even­tu­ally se­cured the town, but IS is not far away and many res­i­dents have fled. “Around 60 per­cent of the 12,000 res­i­dents, par­tic­u­larly the women and chil­dren, have fled to other Chris­tian vil­lages in the prov­ince, like Fayruza and Yaz­dal,” said Suleiman Khalil, Sadad’s mayor. “The men are stay­ing be­hind to de­fend the town,” added Khalil, in his 30s, work­ing a rosary through his fin­gers as he walked.

IS al­ready con­trols sev­eral towns and vil­lages in Homs prov­ince, in­clud­ing the famed city of Palmyra, home to an­cient ru­ins that the group has sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed. It also holds the town of Al-Qary­atain, where its fight­ers kid­napped hun­dreds of civil­ians in­clud­ing Chris­tians, and blew up an an­cient monastery.

Just 10 Kilo­me­tres Away

On Nov 1, the ji­hadist group reached Ma­heen, just 10 km east of Sadad. They have since fired dozens of mor­tar shells at Sadad, killing both civil­ians and lo­cal fight­ers. The ad­vance has left much of the town empty and res­i­dents afraid of what may come next. “We are afraid of mas­sacres but we are also afraid for our churches be­cause the Is­lamic State group has al­ready blown up re­li­gious mon­u­ments in ar­eas it has cap­tured,” one lo­cal res­i­dent told AFP. IS has launched a cam­paign of de­struc­tion against build­ings and mon­u­ments that fall out­side its harsh in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam, rang­ing from Chris­tian churches to Mus­lim graves, as well as an­cient trea­sures like the tem­ples of Palmyra.

“We are threat­ened by Daesh be­cause of our re­li­gion,” said 22-year-old Has­san, a shop­keeper who has taken up arms to de­fend Sadad, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the group. “They threaten the whole world. We are stay­ing here to de­fend the town and pre­vent the tragedies and mas­sacres that hap­pened in other Chris­tian vil­lages from oc­cur­ring here.”

Preparing for bat­tle along­side res­i­dents are two mili­tias, in­clud­ing a con­tin­gent from the so-called So­toro force (Syr­iac for pro­tec­tion). The So­toro is a Syr­iac Chris­tian mili­tia based in the north­east­ern prov­ince of Hasakeh, which has dis­patched some 250 fight­ers to help de­fend Sadad.

Pho­tos with Rus­sian Ad­vi­sors

“We came here to be by the side of the reg­u­lar army and sup­port them in their fight against Daesh,” said 26-year-old So­toro fighter Badie. “We’re here to de­fend all Syr­i­ans in gen­eral, and our Chris­tian broth­ers in par­tic­u­lar,” he added. He said IS would “com­mit mas­sacres” if it was able to en­ter the town. “We are ready to re­pel any of­fen­sive,” he said con­fi­dently. The So­toro forces fight along­side vil­lagers as well as gun­men from the “Ea­gles of the Storm,” an armed wing of the Syr­ian So­cial Na­tion­al­ist Party, a proregime po­lit­i­cal group. Six of the “Ea­gles” were killed re­cently when an IS sui­cide bomber in a car blew him­self up at a check­point manned by the force just out­side the town. — AFP

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