Report: Over 120 Syrian churches damaged by war since 2011

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This May 18, 2017 file photo, shows a Syrian flag raised over the damaged Saint Mary Roman Orthodox church at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
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This April 1, 2018 file photo, shows a cross that lies in the rubble of a destroyed church that was blown up by Islamic State militants in 2015, in the deserted village of Tal Jazeera, northern Syria. (AP)
Updated 09 September 2019

Report: Over 120 Syrian churches damaged by war since 2011

  • Some of the attacks were deliberate, the majority, however, were caused by front-line combat, shelling or rockets

BEIRUT: A Syrian war monitor associated with the opposition said Monday that over 120 Christian places of worship have been damaged or destroyed by all sides in the country’s eight-year conflict.
Some of the attacks were deliberate, such as the Daesh group using bulldozers to destroy the ancient Saint Elian Monastery in Homs province in 2015. The majority, however, were caused by front-line combat, shelling or rockets.
Christians made up about 10 percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million, who co-existed with the Muslim majority and enjoyed freedom of worship under President Bashar Assad’s government.
Most have left for Europe over the past 20 years, with their flight significantly gathering speed since the start of the current conflict.
Around half of all Syrians are now either internally displaced or have left the country.
The report by the Qatar-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, which collects statistics on the war, said government forces were responsible for 60% of the 124 documented attacks since fighting erupted in March 2011. The rest were blamed on Daeshmilitants, the Al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and other factions of the armed opposition.
There was immediate comment from the government, which rarely comments on reports from foreign organizations.
“Targeting Christian places of worship is a form of intimidation against and displacement of the Christian minority in Syria,” said Fadel Abdul Ghany, the founder and chairman of SNHR.
The report said Daesh was behind 10 attacks on Christian sites, five of which were in the northern city of Raqqa, once the extremists de-facto capital. The group was known for displacing and killing Christians in areas it controlled and confiscating their properties.
Hardest hit was the northern province of Aleppo, with 34 attacks, 24 by rebels and six by the government.
The highest number of attacks by government forces — 27 out of 29 — was in the central province of Homs.
SNHR’s report also placed blame on Syrian government allies Russia and Iran, but did not specify how many of the attacks they’d caused.


Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

Updated 31 October 2020

Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

  • Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced

ANKARA: Canan Gullu was having coffee with her friends on her balcony when the quake struck. The head of the Ankara-based Women Associations of Turkey, she had decided to spend the weekend in her summer house in the coastal town of Seferihisar after sleepless nights spent helping victims of domestic violence in the capital.

The teacups fell on the ground, and they hid under a table until they feel safer.

“I felt the building shaking, then the house began moving toward the house next door. It was as if the ground was moving back and forth under our feet. We could barely stand,” Gullu told Arab News.

It was followed by a mini-tsunami that hit the district where she was living.

“I am now focusing on providing essential goods for the women living on the streets or whose buildings collapsed. It is the other face of poverty in Turkey,” Gullu said.

The powerful quake that hit Turkey’s western province of Izmir on Oct. 30 revealed the weak infrastructure of the country’s building stock. Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced; it was as powerful as the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul when more than 17,000 people died.

The search and rescue operations continued on Saturday, with touching footages showing a mother and her three children as well as a cat and a dog being rescued 18 hours after being trapped under the debris of their building.

Turkish survivors continue to stay outside in the tents provided by the municipality for fear of aftershocks. Some hotel and restaurant owners offered free rooms and free dinners to the traumatized people.

To prevent traffic blocking rescue efforts, the authorities have banned vehicles entering the city center.

Friday’s quake killed more than 30 people in Turkey and the neighbouring Greek islands, although that figure was expected to rise. Almost 900 people were injured, with 243 under treatment and eight in intensive care, officials said.

Despite their diplomatic row over energy drilling operations in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish and Greek officials exchanged solidarity messages on Twitter.

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Many people were still waiting for news of relatives trapped under the debris.

Izmir is crossed by 17 different fault lines and has been prone to frequent tremors in the past. The quake resilience of the buildings in the city and unplanned urbanization have come under the spotlight, sparking criticism of the authorities.

The Turkish government issued a controversial zoning amnesty ahead of the general elections of 2018, resulting in 10 million illegally constructed buildings throughout the country.

These were eligible for legitimate deeds, with disastrous consequences during the quakes. Izmir tops the list for the number of illegal buildings that were “forgiven” by a government move to garner more votes.

Several buildings that benefited from that amnesty have collapsed over the years, killing dozens of people. Estimates say that one-fifth of the buildings in Istanbul could be completely destroyed in a quake with a magnitude of 7 or above.

In a past interview, Turkey’s famous contractor Ali Agaoglu, who was proud of selling massive residences to Arab clients, confessed that his company used sand from the Marmara Sea during their construction work. “If there is an earthquake in Istanbul, (the number of the dead and collapsed buildings will be so high that) the army won’t even be able to enter the city,” he said.

Turkey’s earthquake tax was also the subject of intense debate earlier this year with the quakes in eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We spent it where it was meant to be spent. And after this, we do not have time to provide accountability for matters like this.”

Special taxes were levied in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake and were later made permanent. However, there is widespread skepticism about whether these taxes were spent on quake resilience or whether they only helped the state budget at that time.