Syrian militants break into archbishop’s residence

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A shell lays in the middle of the street in Homs, Syria, a remnant of the heavy attack levelled on the city June 11, 2012. Credit: UN Photo-David Manyua.

The fighting in Syria has allowed unidentified militants to break into the residence of the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, leading local Catholics to charge that the burglars “want to foster a sectarian war.”

Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, his vicar and several priests had fled his residence a few hours before the break in, which took place Aug. 23 amid clashes between rebel militia and government troops. The doors to the residence had been forced open and various items, like a computer and a projector, were missing.

The archbishop voiced “great concern and dismay over the incident,” Franciscan Father George Abu Khazen told Fides news agency. The priest is the apostolic pro-vicar of the Latin Catholic community in Aleppo, which hosted the Greek Catholics when they fled to safety.

The archbishop was “shaken” and kept asking why the crime had happened, the priest said.

Archbishop Jeanbart has left for Lebanon.

Fr. Khazen said that the old city of Aleppo witnessed a battle in recent days. The fighting reached Fahrat Square, where all the archbishops’ residences are. The Maronite Catholic archbishop’s residence was also damaged.

Militants broke into the Byzantine Christian museum there and damaged some artifacts and icons.

The Franciscan priest said a solution to the conflict is not in sight “because none of the protagonists in the field, national and international, put pressure to start real dialogue.”

A member of the local Catholic hierarchy, speaking anonymously for safety reasons, warned against efforts to incite further tensions.

“With the intervention, well established, of jihadist groups, there is an attempt to foment hatred and sectarian conflict,” he said. “There is an increasing number of Wahhabi and Salafi Islamist militias, from Chechnya, Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Arabia, Libya.”

He warned that the groups aim to bring “chaos, destruction, atrocities” and to “paralyze social life.”

The Syrian civilian population is the victim but it will not fall into this trap, he said.

The Syrian fighting began in March 2011 when opponents of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad took up arms. About 20,000 people have died in the violence and some 200,000 Syrians have fled the country.

There are fears the violence could spill across Syria’s borders. The country’s Christian population has largely sided with the government and has come under violent attack from some rebel groups.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit neighboring Lebanon in three weeks. Vatican officials and Lebanese churchmen have said that the visit will proceed as planned.

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