For Christians in #Syria, fear of
Damascus, Syria (CNN) — As the 18-month-long Syrian conflict festers, the government and the opposition welcome and need Christian support.
But some Christians fear radical Islamists have been swelling rebel ranks.
CNN’s Nic Robertson recently spoke with Syrian Christians in the Damascus countryside town of Maaloula.
Christians make up 10% of the population. Syria is ruled by a government dominated by Alawites, whose faith is an offshoot of Shiism. The regime is opposed by an opposition with a large Sunni presence.
Some Christianssupport the government, others the opposition. Many want to know what an opposition government would mean for them and are apprehensive.
Antoinette Nassrallah, the Christian owner of a cafe, said she has seen government TV images depicting radical Muslim attacks on Christians. She said she has heard about such violence in Aleppo.
“We used to have a lot of tourists. But now, since last year, we never had any.”
Maria Saadeh, a newly elected parliament member, calls herself independent and says she’s in the middle. She doesn’t criticize President Bashar al-Assad but wants change through talk, not violence.
She ponders the government’s fight against the opposition and the opposition’s intentions. “We can’t ask the government to stop if we have terrorism in our land.”
Pelagia Sayaf, mother superior at a monastery, doesn’t know whether a post-Assad era will be good or bad. But she says the president loves his people. She proudly displays a picture of him and his wife visiting the convent’s orphans last year.
“The president,” she said, “we know him.”
Here are the latest key developments in the civil war in Syria:
Helicopter crashes in Damascus suburb, government says
A helicopter crashed Thursday morning in a suburb of Damascus after it clipped the tail of a Syrian Airlines passenger plane, the government said.
The plane, carrying about 200 passengers, landed safely at Damascus airport. No one on board the passenger plane was injured. State TV earlier reported that a helicopter crashed southeast of Douma.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group, said it was downed by rebels.
Meeting at The Hague focuses on toughening sanctions
The Friends of the Syrian People, a group of more than 60 countries working for regime change in Syria, considered tightening economic sanctions against the country’s government Thursday.
Participants include all the European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, all the gulf states, Jordan, Turkey, the Arab League and other nations. They met at The Hague in the Netherlands.
“By imposing sanctions, we are sending an important message and helping to further isolate the regime. But sanctions will only have an impact if they are carried out effectively. That is how we can make a difference,” Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said.
Russian aid arrives
A Russian aircraft carrying 38 tons of food supplies for beleaguered Syrians arrived in Damascus on Thursday, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA.
Alexander Bogdanov, deputy director of the emergencies department at the Russian Ministry of Extraordinary Situations, said that the supplies included sugar, meat, milk and canned fish.
“This aid is evidence of Russia’s principled stances toward Syria and the strong and solid relations between the Syrian and Russian governments and peoples,” said Hassan Hijazi, Syria’s assistant minister of social affairs and labor.
U.S. senator warns Iraq over airspace for Iran
Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, warned Iraq to avoid “fanning the flames of violence” by allowing Iran to use its airspace to transport weapons to Syria or face possible sanctions.
Kerry’s comments Wednesday follow reports that Iran has been sending weapons through Iraq to Syria, something Iraq has vehemently denied.
Kerry raised the possibility of cutting off aid to Iraq if it didn’t take steps to address the issue.
At least 82 people were killed in fighting early Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group.
Twenty-eight of the casualties occurred in the city of Homs, 26 in Aleppo and 14 in Damascus and its suburbs.
More than 26,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, the LCC said.
Opposition reports burned bodies, dozens of deaths
A reporter for the opposition’s Shaam News Network was among four men who were killed and their bodies burned in Hama when regime forces set fire to a house, the news agency said late Wednesday.
Adbelkareen Al’uqda, 26, used the monikers Abu Hassan and Karmo in reports, the network said. He is credited with uploading more than 1,250 videos on YouTube that captured the violence between government forces and rebels, it said.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports of violence as the Syrian government has severely limited the access of international journalists.
Aerial shelling and warplane activity
Five people were reported killed from aerial shelling of residential neighborhoods in Aleppo, the LCC said.
Warplanes were flying over the city of Tal Abyad in Raqqa province, the group said.
MiG warplane shelling was reported in Damascus countryside villages.
State TV says regime forces killed Afghan “terrorists”
Al-Assad’s forces killed more than 100 foreign fighters, described as “Afghani terrorists,” who were holed up at a school in Aleppo, SANA said.
The news agency did not say when or how the fighters were killed, nor did it spell out details about how Syrian forces determined they were Afghan fighters.
The operation took place in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood.
Assassination, kidnapping; border infiltration foiled
A religious endowments director who oversees the provincial cities of Daraa and Sweida was kidnapped Thursday by an armed terrorist group, the label the Assad regime has given the opposition, SANA said. The report said terrorists in a car abducted Muammar al-Shahadat in Daraa.
In Hasaka, “terrorists” shot and killed a government official, Marwan al-Husein, on Thursday, SANA said. He is head of the production department at the branch of the Military Housing Establishment in the city.
SANA said “terrorists” trying to enter Syria from Lebanon were foiled Wednesday night.
Iranian diplomacy: Meeting the opposition
Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani revealed that his country has held talks with Syrian opposition groups, according to a transcript of an interview released by the Financial Times.
In the interview, Larijani said that according to reports he received, there was contact with the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria “to bring about peace and to support necessary reforms.” Larijani described the Syrian opposition as “multilayered,” without a unified leader.
It was unclear when the discussions were held or whether they yielded any progress, though Larijani said they were held in Tehran.
Report: Turkish aircraft was over international waters
A Turkish military prosecutor says forensic evidence shows that the June downing of a Turkish jet by a surface-to-air missile fired by Syria occurred over international waters, the semiofficial Anadolu news agency reported.
Syria shot down the F-4 Phantom jet on June 22, intensifying the animosity between the countries, whose once close relationship has eroded since al-Assad’s forces began cracking down on the opposition last year.
Syria said the plane violated its airspace, an allegation that Turkey vehemently disputed.