Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written question – answered on 12th September 2013.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of attacks on the historic Christian town of Maaloula by elements of Syrian opposition forces; whether groups affiliated to or members of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) were involved in any such attacks; and what representations he has made to the SNC concerning toleration of religious minorities, including the Christian minority in Syria.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

On Thursday 5 September, unconfirmed reports began to emerge of an attack on the regime-held town of Maaloula, in the Qalamoun hills some 35 miles north-east of Damascus. According to these reports, on the evening of Wednesday 4 September, the town was attacked by fighters from some extremist opposition factions—including the AQ-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), Ahrar al-Sham and Ahfad al-Rasul. These attacks were reportedly followed by regime shelling and air strikes. To date there have been no confirmed reports of civilians being killed or churches desecrated.

We regularly engage with the Syrian National Coalition and the Supreme Military Council and continue to encourage them to respect all minority rights. The National Coalition has committed to reaching out to minorities and has made clear that there will be a place for all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious belief, in a future Syria. At the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul on 20 April, the National Coalition set out clear commitments on reaching out to minorities and to guaranteeing the rights, interests and participation of all components of Syrian society. During the visit of Coalition President Al-Jarba on 5 September 2013, I emphasised that the coalition should continue to show their commitment to the safety of Christians, and other minorities.

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