Church in the old city of Damascus, an area that is currently under attack from rebel held positions on outskirts of the city. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2008)
A 2008 photo of a church in the old city of Damascus, an area currently under attack from rebel-held positions on outskirts of the city. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Two churches have been damaged in a fresh escalation of fighting in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Dozens of shells were fired from the rebel-held enclave of Goutha East on Tuesday (9 January), in the space of just a few hours, “at random” and without a specific goal, witnesses told AsiaNews. The attacks were concentrated on majority-Christian areas of Bab Sharki, Qassa’a and Bab Touma, hitting houses as well as the Latin Church of the Conversion of St. Paul, and a Maronite cathedral.

“The firing of rockets into populated areas of Damascus … appears to serve no military purpose and creates terror among the civilian population,” the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said yesterday (10 January).

He added that the failure to evacuate urgent the sick and wounded was a breach of international humanitarian-law obligations.

Peace talks are due to resume in Geneva on 21 January, in an attempt to bring an end to a seven-year conflict that has so far claimed an estimated 400,000 lives and led to an approximate 6.3 million people being internally displaced. A further 5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries.

Syria is 15th on the newly released Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Last year it was 6th – the fall is mainly attributed to Islamic State’s military defeat, after which Christians have started to return home, to rebuild their lives and country.

Of the 2 million Christians who lived in Syria in 2011, roughly half of them had fled by 2016, according to a report published last year by a trio of Christian charities.