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Monday, September 15, 2014

Lebanese Christians take up arms as ISIS terror spreads

Posted Sept. 5, 2014, 03:52 p.m.
An Iraqi woman, who fled her home with her family from Iraq.
As Christians flee Syria and Iraq to escape the radical Islamic State, Lebanese Christians are preparing themselves for the possibility of hostilities flowing over their border. 

For the first time since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese Christians are arming themselves for self-defense, deploying on hills surrounding their communities, and laying in ambush in case Muslim extremists head their way. 

“We all know that if they come, they will slit our throats for no reason,” said one villager as he drove through the streets of the border town Qaa, an assault rifle resting next to him.

In Iraq, thousands of Christians have fled rather than face the alternatives—convert to Islam or die. Their homes have been claimed as Islamic State property and marked with the Arabic letter ‘N’ for Nasarani, or Christian. Believers around the world have claimed the symbol as a rallying cry and show of solidarity. 

Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian Christians have been displaced over the course of the three-year conflict there as militants destroy churches and entire communities. Many of the Christians from Iraq and Syria have taken refuge in Lebanon but are beginning to feel insecure even in the pluralistic country. 

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Vandals spray painted the walls of several churches in northern Lebanon this week with the words, “The Islamic State is coming,” after someone posted a video online of boys burning an Islamic flag in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut.

Some leftist and communist groups in Lebanon have supported the rearming of Christians, and black market weapons sales have climbed. Even Hezbollah, a Shiite group, has indirectly supported the effort, hoping the Christians would be a last defense for Shiite towns in eastern Lebanon. Anxiety along the border rose after Syrian militants overran the border town of Arsal, killing and abducting soldiers and police in the worst spillover from the Syrian conflict since March 2011. 

But there is concern that the rearming effort could raise tensions in Lebanon, which is split over the Syrian conflict. During its own 15-year civil war, the right wing Phalange group fought on behalf of Lebanese Christians. 

The number of Christians in the Middle East is rapidly declining as jihadist groups target their communities, and many Christians have fled Syria for Europe. Iraq’s Ninevah region and the provincial capital of Mosul has been emptied of the Christian communities that have lived in the area for centuries. 

“We are scared,” Umm Milad, a young Iraqi woman said while waiting to collect aid at a Chaldean church in Beirut. She came to Lebanon with her husband and children after someone painted an ‘N’ on their home in Mosul in July. The terrorists gave them 24 hours to leave. “We don’t want to go back. We want to go anywhere else. Canada or America.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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