More than 20 Christians were brutally murdered by the Islamic State when the terror group first captured a Syrian community that the government recently liberated, a church leader has revealed.
Qaryatain, once home to a thriving Christian population, was captured by IS last summer as part of the terror group's ongoing campaign to establish its Caliphate, or state ruled by Sharia Law, across Iraq and Syria.
Syrian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II recently told the BBC that at least 230 citizens, including scores of Christians, were kidnapped when ISIS captured the town.
He revealed that some died while trying to escape while the others were killed for breaking the terms of their "dhimmi contracts", which require them to submit to the rule of Islam. The church official said that five more people are believed to be missing or dead, while the remainder of the group was reunited with their families after negotiations and ransom payments. The patriarch also said that the terrorist group had planned to sell the Christian girls to slavery.
As earlier noted, the contract was comprised of 11 specific commandments, including one which prohibited praying out loud to Jesus Christ under penalty of death.
The contract also prohibited the establishment of churches, the displaying of crosses, the hiding of spies, offending Islamic religious beliefs, the carrying of weapons, the sale of pork or wine to Muslims, and failing to dress modestly.
The list of rules concluded, "If they comply with these conditions, so they have are safe in their lands, money and souls, and they are not going to pay one-tenth except they bring money to trade from outside the IS territories not oppressor nor oppressed. None of them is going to be punished under a sin committed by another else of them. In case they violate the conditions of this writ, then 'Islamic State' is going to deal with them as they deal with people of war (warriors)."
The church leader explained that despite the murders, restoring harmony between Muslims and Christians remains his goal.
"We lived this situation for centuries, we learned how to respect each other, we learned how to live with each other," said the patriarch. "We can live together again, if we are left alone by others."
Al-Qaryatain, located only 65 miles from the historic Syrian city of Palmyra, was liberated by government forces in coordination with Russian-backed airstrikes last week.
The BBC notes that the town is now "utterly devastated", with street after street and building after building - including a 1,500-year-old Catholic monastery - in ruins. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that ISIS destroyed the monastery in August 2015, determined to desecrate and destroy Christian symbols and relics.
At the time, the extremist group posted images of several fighters demolishing the Catholic site to various social media accounts. They also trashed an ancient church next to the Assyrian Christian monastery, and desecrated a nearby cemetery, breaking the crosses and smashing nameplates.
This latest revelation comes less than a month after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared Islamic extremists are committing "genocide" against Christians and other ancient minority groups in the Middle East.
U.S. policy, Mark Arabo, president of the California-based Minority Humanitarian Foundation, told The Gospel Herald that while the designation does not change US policy, the government will now be morally compelled to stop the genocide committed against Christians in the Middle East.
"It's not enough that they recognized the problem, they need to fix the problem" he said. "We hope and pray that the moral conscience of Congress is going to wake up, and God will open up their hearts and minds to the victims of genocide."
Arabo encouraged believers in the United States to not only pray for those suffering in the Middle East, but to contact members of Congress and help push for the enactment of legislation protecting Christians persecuted or their faith.
"When the American people's hearts comes together, God is listening, and is he aware of our prayers," he said. "Miracles do happen. Today, by all measures, it was a miracle that the U.S. government was able to come together and recognize that Christian genocide is occurring. It is living proof that prayers to God do go answered."
As earlier reported by The Gospel Herald, Canon Andrew White, Vicar Emeritus of St. George's Church in Baghdad, similarly challenged Christians to make every effort to help those persecuted in the Middle East during a speech delivered at Proclaim16, the NRB International Christian Media Convention.
"We Christians! We talk about looking after the Persecuted Church. You talk about helping those who are suffering for their faith. But do you mean it? Or is it just talk and prayer?" he asked.
White clarified that while "prayer is a very good thing," it's even more important to "pray for peace and pay for peace."
"It's no good praying and doing nothing. If you really care, you will provide for those in need," he said, referencing James 2:14-17. "These are your people," he said. "Will you come back with me, metaphorically, and help your brothers and sisters?"