LONDON -- The Vatican has determined that Sunni rebels were targeting the Christian community in Syria.
The Vatican has received reports deemed credible that Sunni rebels financed by Qatar were attacking churches and ordering Christians to leave their homes.
The reports, which stemmed from leading Catholic clerics, said the most threatened were Christians in rebel-held areas of Syria.
"The picture for us is utter desolation," Bishop Philip Tournyol Clos, a Greek Catholic cleric, said.
The bishop, who holds the title of archimandrite, said a leading church in Syria, Mar Elian, has been destroyed. He said another church, Our Lady of Peace, was occupied by the rebels.
"Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything," the bishop said.
The Vatican determined that some of the Sunni attackers were aligned with the Free Syrian Army, based in Turkey. An FSA commander, identified as Abdul Salam Harba, was said to have ordered Christians out of central Syria.
Another cleric, Agnes Miriam, mother superior of the Monastery of St. James, said the Christians in the Homs province have been pressured to join the revolt against President Bashar Assad. She said Christians who refused were used as human shields in attacks on Syrian Army and security forces.
Christians, who comprise around three percent of Syria's 22 million people, were also being targeted by Sunni rebels in Damascus. Rebel militias, including one called the Brigade of Islam, have been killing Christian civil servants. In Aleppo, most of the city's 180,000 Christians stayed home amid clashes between rebels and Assad forces.
"It is a moment of great suffering and uncertainty," Friar George Abu Hazen, the Franciscan leader of Aleppo, told the Vatican's Fides News Agency.