Screen grab of a Human Rights Watch video showing a ransacked church in a village in Lattakia.
Syrian rebel groups have been accused of destroying religious sites in the north of the country over the past few months - incidents which have sparked concern for various religious denominations caught up in the Syrian conflict. Shiite and Christian Observers describe the fear in which they live.
Two churches were stormed and ransacked in the villages of Ghasaniyeh and Jdeideh (in the region of Lattakia) in November and December 2012, according to Human Rights Watch
. According to statements from witnesses, the attacks happened after the villages fell into the hands of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
In Zarzour, a village in the state of Idlib, a Shiite mausoleum was torched in December. According to witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch, the rebels apparently set the mausoleum alight on purpose.
In these three villages, religious minorities have fled in high numbers. In Zarzour, which is a majority Sunni village, the Shiites left for fear of being targeted by the rebels who accuse them of supporting the regime.
Human Rights Watch has urged the Free Syrian Army to protect places of worship and religious minorities in Syria, and warned against raising religious sectarianism.
A number of amateur videos show places of worship being destroyed.
This video shows rebel soldiers from the Free Syrian Army celebrating the capture of the village Zarzour, in the Idlib area, while in the background a Shiite mosque is burning.
In these images posted on YouTube, we see a man destroying the minaret of a Shiite mausoleum. We hear someone ask him “are you Shiite? Go on, destroy it. But be careful that it doesn’t fall on your head.” The man then says he wants to build a mosque in its place. These images were reportedly filmed in Zarzour.
Numerous churches have also been destroyed by regime bombing in rebel-held areas, notably in the region of Homs. The soldiers do not hesitate to target religious sites when they suspect rebels have taken refuge there.
Sunni places of worship are not immune to the war either. In September 2012, we published this video
, which shows the minaret of a Sunni mosque in the centre of Aleppo collapse during an attack from the Syrian state army.
Syria is comprised of several religious and ethnic communities. Since 1971, the country has been ruled by the Assad family, themselves members of the Alawite minority - a branch of Shiism which represents 10 percent of the Syrian population. The country is also home to Kurdish, Christian Druze and Shiite minorities.
Video from Human Rights Watch showing a church stormed in a village controlled by the Free Syrian Army in the Lattakia area.
It is very difficult to talk to Christian and Shiite witnesses in Syria because they fear the repercussions of speaking out. Since the beginning of the revolt, the opposition has denied the existence of tensions between the different religious communities, while the regime has warned of an ethnic and religious divide. It has emerged that Jihadist Sunnis are operating in the country.