Christians in Idlib still living in fear of jihadists

Some Christians have stayed in Idlib despite the huge personal risk(Photo: Ismael Martinez Sanchez/ACN)

Christians in the Idlib province of Syria are still living with the daily threat of being killed, tortured or attacked, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Idlib lies to the north-west of Syria, bordering with Turkey, and is still controlled by international jihadist groups, including an offshoot of Daesh (ISIS).

Franciscan friar Father Firas Lutfi told ACN that Christians in the region are "hiding their faith" out of fear of the jihadists. 

He spoke of a decade of suffering for Christians in Idlib, starting with the outbreak of the civil war in early 2011, which caused militant groups to take control of the region and declare it an Islamic state. 

"They confiscated the properties of the Christians, enforced the Islamic Sharia [law] on all the non-Muslims, took their rights to move freely in their own villages, forced the women to wear the veil," said Fr Lufti. 

"They destroyed and prevented any apparent Christian symbols, like the crosses above the churches and the graveyards."

Other Christians were attacked, beaten, tortured or murdered, he said. 

Despite the risk to their lives, two friars, Father Hanna Jallouf, 67, and Father Luai Bsharat, 40, have stayed in the province to help the Christian community.

Today, they are serving 300 Christian families in the villages of Knayeh and Yacoubieh. 

Fr Lufti said their presence was a "sign of hope in the midst of the darkness and hopelessness", and that they were committed to staying to strengthen the Church and support Christians who have decided to remain. 

"The Christians in these regions face absolute persecution, fear, violence, danger, death, terrorism and hiding their faith and opinion," he said. 

He added: "Despite the daily difficulties and the unbearable miseries, Father Luai Bsharat and Father Hanna Jallouf have stayed there because they believe in serving and trying to protect the remaining Christians, and they believe that this region should not be forsaken."