BEIRUT

Middle East

Aleppo archbishop flees to Lebanon: Vatican radio

ROME: The Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Aleppo has fled to Lebanon and his offices in the war-ravaged city have been looted, Vatican media said on Monday, amid fears over the fate of Christian minorities.

Vatican radio and the missionary news agency Fides said Jean-Clement Jeanbart initially sought refuge with some Franciscan friars in the city on Thursday last week as fighting intensified in Christian quarters of Aleppo.

Within a few hours the archdiocese had been ransacked by "unidentified groups who want to start a religious war and drag the Syrian people into a sectarian conflict," a source in the local Christian community told Fides.

The doors of the archdiocese had been forced open and several objects like computers stolen, the reports said. Jeanbart has since fled to Lebanon.

The Melkites are an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Vatican.

The reports also said the Maronite archdiocese in Aleppo and the Byzantine Christian museum of Maarrat Nahman in the city had also been damaged.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces last week regained control of some Christian areas in the city centre that had been seized by rebels.

Jeanbart told Vatican radio that he was concerned about the presence of foreign fighters in the country and "organisations to find jihadists."

"That is why there are fundamentalists coming from Libya, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Turkey and many other countries," he said.

Many members of Syria's Christian clergy have been supportive of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite community, because of concerns that Islamists could take power in the multi-faith country.

Around 7.5 percent of Syria's 20 million inhabitants are Christian.

 
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