Christians Forced to Flee Syrian City of Homs

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Syrian Christians trapped in the besieged city of Homs were evacuated Wednesday after a deal was struck between the army and local rebels.

Maximos al-Jamal, a Greek Orthodox priest involved in the evacuation, said over the last 24 hours more than 100 civilians, including 63 Christians, have fled for safety.

Homs, Syria's third largest city, has a substantial Christian population and has been one of the hardest-hit regions since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March 2011.

Rebels control several neighborhoods, which has sparked rounds of intense attacks by government troops in recent months.

Many fear the situation will soon look like Iraq, where Christians are caught in the fighting between rival Muslim factions.

Al-Jamal said about 100 of the civilians who remained trapped in the two besieged Homs neighborhoods are Christians, down from thousands who lived in the area before uprising began.

He added that he feared the rebels want to keep Christians in the city as a bargaining chip against the army.

Al-Jamal told The Associated Press Wednesday that "gunmen have told the besieged people that if you go out of these areas, we will die."

Sporadic clashes with government troops have already forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee the neighborhoods to a relatively safe area known as the Valley of the Christians, just outside Homs.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria's population of 22 million people.

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