Syrian residents worried about the a possible influx of Islamist rebels following a possible military attack by the U.S. have their passports packed and will join the more than 1.2 million people already living in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
Nearly 450,000 of the 2 million Syrian Christians have already been displaced, said a representative of the Church of Antioch.
As the debate in the international community continues, Christians that live in or near Damascus say they are facing a double crisis. Like many others in Damascus, they worry that an attack could lead to the civil war becoming bigger instead of ending, while they also worry about becoming a lightning rod in the conflict for the many Muslim radicals.
The fears of Christians were heightened over the past week as rebels, with the help of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda pushed into the ancient village of Maaloula only 35 miles from Damascus. There residents speak a version of Aramaic, which is a biblical language that Jesus is believed to have used.
Insiders said that the rebels had entered the village were two thirds of the local population were Christians.
SANA, the state run news agency in Syria said on Monday that the government’s army units were pursuing the “terrorists” that were linked to the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda group in Maaloula. The news agency said a number of the “terrorists” had been killed.
Near the village, a number of clashes took place according to observers from human rights organizations. There were reports that 16 residents of the village had been killed. However, only five deaths have been confirmed.
Others who lived in Umm Sharshouh village near Homs had to flee their homes when rebels took over the village earlier in the year. They are still living in Homs, as their village is still being held by the rebels.
The government of Syria said that attacks against the Christians were part of a broader fight that is being waged against the Sunni Muslim extremists.