Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Israel of working to displace the region’s Christian population in order to justify its own survival, according to a report by the official Syrian News Agency, SANA.
“The displacement of Christians is a main goal for the external schemes for the region, but it is mainly an Israeli goal,” Assad reportedly told participants of the International Ecclesiastical Conference in Damascus on Saturday.
He went on to explain that “when the countries of the region are divided into different sectarian states, each with a single color, then Israel will become part of the natural tissue. Therefore, maintaining the texture of the region and its diverse identity are a need that we should defend," the report said.
The president had organized the three-day conference, according to Syrian media, to court Syrian Christians. Representatives of humanitarian, social and developmental associations and institutions participated in the event last week under the theme “Church is a house of love.”
He stressed during his talk with the representatives that “the Christian citizen in Syria is not a guest, nor a passing citizen, but a partner, and the title of this partnership is work and production,” according to SANA.
The number of Christians in Syria has declined over the last decade, according to the World Christian Persecution Index published by Open Doors. There were 2.2 million Christians in the country in 2011 and only 677,000 in 2021.
Syria is ranked No. 15 on the organization’s list of “top 50 countries where it is most difficult to follow Jesus.” The ranking says that “Islamic oppression” is the source of persecution in the country.