Christian communities in Aleppo have taken up arms and formed their own militias for the first time, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
A fighter with the Free Syria Army (FSA) fires his weapon during skirmishes in the contested neighborhood of Izza in the northern city of Aleppo. Photo: Zac Baillie/AFP/Getty Images
By Ruth Sherlock, Carol Malouf in Beirut
Christian Science Monitor
“Everybody is fighting everybody,” said George, an Armenian Christian from the city. “The Armenians are fighting because they believe the FSA are sent by their Turkish oppressors to attack them, the Christians want to defend their neighbourhoods, Shabiha regime militia are there to kill and rape, the army is fighting the FSA, and the [Kurdish militant group] PKK have their own militia too.”
For the past six weeks up to 150 Christian and Armenian fighters have been fighting to prevent Free Syrian Army rebels from entering Christian heartland areas of Aleppo.
Last month the Syrian army claimed a ‘victory’ in removing FSA fighters from the historic Christian quarter of Jdeidah. But Christian
militia fighters told the Daily Telegraph it was they who had first attacked the FSA there.
“The FSA were hiding in Farhat Square in Jdeideh. The Church committees stormed in and cleansed the area. Then the Syrian army
joined us. They claimed the victory on State television,” said George, who like many Christian refugees is too scared to give his full name. “The rebels were threatening the churches.”
The area, defined by its boutique shops, narrow cobbled streets and the spires and cupolas of the Maronite, Orthodox and Armenian churches, had over the weeks become infiltrated with sniper positions and checkpoints, residents said.
“FSA snipers were on the rooftops and they were attacking the Maronite church and Armenian residents there,” said a former clergyman calling himself John, now in Beirut, who said he had witnessed the battle.
The battle for Aleppo has become bitter, with militant jihadist groups playing a more prominent role than in any other city.
It has become increasingly scarred by accusations of atrocities on both sides, most recently the mass killing of 20 regime troops, whose bodies were displayed on a video apparently uploaded to the internet by a rebel militia.