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Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Decisive fight

As Syria's civil war escalates, threats of a wider, more threatening conflict grow

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

After Russia and China again vetoed UN Security Council action against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, the frustration and failure of the international community to respond to the latest crisis in the Middle East was undeniable: "The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year," said a visibly angry Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN.

Seventeen months into what began as a protest movement to bring down Assad, and over 10,000 dead later (some estimate the dead as high as 16,000-19,000), Arab League peace plans and UN resolutions have failed to check a civil war that now threatens the entire region. With a July 18 bombing that killed Syria's top security officials and nearly daily defections of its ambassadors overseas and other officers, even Assad's allies readied plans for his 12-year tenure to end and the 46-year-old leader to step down.

Instead, his forces brought in heavy weapons and aircraft to beat back rebel gains in the key cities of Damascus and Aleppo on July 24, and retreat did not seem imminent. On July 22 alone, one opposition group (the Local Coordination Committees of Syria) reported 111 civilians killed. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, "The battle for the capital, the decisive fight" is underway.

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As threatening as the current situation appears, it is nothing compared to what a post-Assad Syria may look like. While the opposition is composed of legitimate, longstanding groups like the Syrian National Council, they are increasingly co-opted by outside forces, including al-Qaeda-linked terror groups.

The potential for such groups to acquire Syria's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which include some of the largest chemical and biological stores in the region, plus nuclear capability, is critical, according to former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton: "The global threat to innocent civilians is tremendous, including not just actual weapons, but also critical precursor materials and manufacturing equipment. We must not permit terrorists like al-Qaeda or Hezbollah in next-door Lebanon, rogue states or a radical Syrian successor regime to acquire these capabilities. The time available is short, and the risks we face in attempting to secure or destroy Syria's WMD are high."

Already Syria's Christians, who number about 10 percent or more of the population, know that many in the rebel contingent are no patriots.

Last week Christian workers in Syria provided photos to WORLD of widespread damage to churches in Homs. Contrary to other media reports, clergy in Homs claim that the churches came under direct attack from rebel fighters, and that fighters took up positions in the churches, making them targets of government-led bombardments.

One Christian family of five from Homs told Barnabas Fund that rebels drove them from their home, and looted or destroyed most of their property, even as one of the daughters was wounded by rebel gunfire. Another Christian family was reported targeted and killed by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen on July 22 in Bab Touma, a largely Christian neighborhood at the end of Straight Street near the Old City of Damascus.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the work of Christian missions in the war-torn country continues. The Aleppo-based Armenian Christian Medical Association, which runs medical clinics throughout the region, last week prepared for mission trips to Turkey and Moldova even as closer-to-home needs escalated. Asked how the group could depart amidst fighting and instability, one lead doctor (who is not named for security reasons) told me, "We don't combine the crisis in country with our missions. We combine it with our zeal and burden of the Lord and expansion of His kingdom."


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