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Syria's future tied to freedom for captured Christian leaders

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The sectarian complexion of the struggle in Syria has given a new life to jihadists and extremists on both sides of the contest. Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization backed by Iran, supports Mr. Assad's government. Among the opposition forces in Syria are terrorist organizations such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is a partner of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a statement to Congress, said that “AQI's Syria-based network, the Nusrah Front, is one of the best organized and most capable of the Sunni terrorist groups.”

Jabhat Al-Nusra and similar radical groups advocate an extreme form of sharia (Islamic law) in Syria. Fighting under the black flag associated with Al Qaeda, in their minds these groups are engaged in a broader holy war for a new Islamic caliphate. Syria’s minority groups, including Syriac Christians, Allawites, Kurds, and Druze, are not part of their post-Assad vision. Videos on YouTube and Facebook show fighters proclaiming their determination to murder all non-believers when they see victory in Syria.

Syria’s Christians are in a particularly perilous position. These Christian communities are among the oldest in the world. According to the New Testament, it was on the road to Damascus that Paul converted to Christianity. Syria’s Christians have, until the current conflict, been well integrated into that society, keeping a low profile, mostly staying out of politics, living throughout the country, and contributing to the rich cultural tapestry of their nation and region.

But Syria’s Christians and the prospect of a tolerant endgame in Syria are now in direct peril as a result of the civil war. The latest example of this came on April 22, when the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Boulose Yazigi, and the Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, were kidnapped while carrying out humanitarian work in the area around Aleppo.

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