WASHINGTON, August 14, 2013 — This week ForeignPolicy.com released a list of thirty five possible targets that President Obama may order a strike against as he continues on the steady build up to an attack on Syria; however there are several locations that, if attacked, could dramatically worsen the situation. Certain historically religious structures and temples, holy to the world’s Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and Jews, remain in critical danger of being damaged or destroyed in the event of an international attack. Many who are closely monitoring the situation in Syria are paying special attention to these special five locations:
1. The Shrine of Sayyeda Zainab
Serving as the tomb of Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, the shrine of Sayyeda Zainab is an important destination for Shiite Muslims, who flock to the ornate structure from around the world, including visitors from as far away as Europe and the United States. It has been threatened by the Nusra Front, a key player in the Syrian rebel forces, and well publicized Al Qaeda affiliate. Miles away is the equally vital Mausoleum of Sayyeda Ruqayya, the niece of Zainab.
An attack that damages either shrine will dramatically inflame tensions in the area and amongst the surrounding countries. Fearing danger to the shrines, individuals from around the Middle East have flocked to Damascus in an attempt to protect the monuments. If either shrine is damaged in an attack designed to support the rebels, it could contribute to destabilizing the entire region.
The two shrines are protected under the United Nations World Heritage (UNESCO) status, as is the next “in danger” location on the list.
2. The Umayyad Mosque
Also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus, and the former site of the Basilica of John the Baptist (a figure revered by Christians and Muslims alike), the mosque is located near Damascus, where many experts believe attacks may be directed. Historically, starting with the period of the Umayyads, the mosque served as the seat of various Sunni caliphate dynasties, and is viewed as an important historic location, and is visited by innumerable Sunni and Shiite Muslims each year.
The mosque has served as one of the few locations where there are minimal or no sectarian tensions amongst the Muslims of Syria, and destroying or significantly damaging the mosque will only inflame devotees of the historic religious icon, with likely catastrophic results for the future of Syria.
3. Our Lady of Saydnaya Monastery
The Christian monastery is a nearly fifteen hundred year old structure believed to have been constructed by an early Byzantine emperor who reported to have received visions of the Virgin Mary. Residents living near the monastery fear attacks on other nearby Christian churches and monasteries within the region. Christian sites have been popular targets for extremists amongst the rebel forces. “They cut off the head of the statue of Mary (Lady of the Two Worlds) in Syria’s Jisr El Shaghour region,” writes Reverend Georges Massouh. St. Takla’s Monastery, a first century Church opened reportedly by a disciple of St. Paul the Apostle, another UN Heritage Site, is also in danger of being hit.
Military attacks against Syria which result in damage to Christianity’s most sacred historical churches and monasteries will only aid the extremist goals of eliminating Christianity from Syria. Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, was kidnapped earlier this year by rebels, and may either be still in custody, or have been murdered by the same forces. Bolstering any efforts by the rebels to assault Christian heritage or the Syrian Christians could easily be catastrophic.
4. The Dura-Europos synagogue
The Dura-Europos synagogue has writings that have been traced back to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Scholars believe the artistry depicting stories from the Old Testament were used for teaching purposes in the earliest days of the synagogue. Syria’s historic Jewish community has all but fled the region, however maintain a strong connection to their heritage. Damage to this site would destroy one of the world’s most ancient sites of the Abrahamic religion, and could draw the attention of Israel, resulting in a complicated situation for the United States.
5. The Roman Ruins of Palmyra and Apamea
Syria’s historical connection to the Roman Empire is well documented, with several early figures hailing from the region. Roman ruins are spread out throughout major cities in Syria, and remain a source of fascination for archaeologists and other historians. Historical sites like these cannot be replaced, and a military strike that damages them would be particularly tragic.
Additionally, Pew Research reported that “In two surveys last year, the most recent in December, majorities of Americans said the United States did not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting between government forces and the opposition. Similarly, in a survey conducted in June, most Americans also opposed arming anti-government rebels in Syria.”
Continuing the report, Pew Research says “A Washington Post/ABC News survey last December found an even more dramatic public reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In general, just 17% thought the ‘U.S. military should get involved in the situation in Syria,’ while 73% said it should not.”
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