Located near to the Lebanese border, Al Qusayr was a small town with around ten thousand Christians, who made up a quarter of the population. The battle for Al-Qusayr started in February 2012 and intensified over the following months.
On June 2, 2012 a local Islamic preacher and military chief issued an ultimatum: Al Qusayr’s Christians must either join the rebels or leave. Some mosques repeated the same message, announcing from the minarets: “Christians must leave Al Qusayr by Friday.” In early July jihadist militants commandeered St. Elijah’s (Mar Elias) Melkite Greek Catholic Church as their headquarters. St. Elijah’s Church in Al Qusayr was desecrated when the rebels broke in. They forced the door, rang the bells and sacred items were made objects of public mockery.
On October 12, the same military and spiritual leader repeated his previous message – which was supported by the local Muslim community. Christian families from Al Qusayr began to ﬂee towards the surrounding valleys and rural areas, taking refuge in relatives’ homes in the region. Very few stayed; most of those who did were elderly. The church was under rebel control for a year. Since then, St. Elijah’s Church has been further damaged by bombing. Inside the church there were shell craters, stripped icons, liturgical books that had been ripped apart, the main altar was chipped, and another altar was burned. In addition, the roof and walls had also seriously suﬀered from mortar shells and gunfire. However, most damage seems to have resulted from looting and vandalism. Nearly all items of obvious value are missing.
Graffiti at the back of the church was most remarkable; it included the words “Infidels” and “The religion of our leader Mohammad (the Prophet) will be victorious”.
While St. Elijah’s Church was not the first religious edifice to be damaged in the war in Syria, it suﬀered the worst desecration of all those churches that were not destroyed.