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Syrian Christians live in uneasy alliance with Bashar Assad

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USA Today writers Stephen Starr and S. Akminas offer insightful reporting into the challenges facing Syrian Christians:

Hani Sarhan is a Christian who says none of his relatives works with Bashar Assad's regime or has anything to do with it.

"But what we heard from (the protesters) at the beginning of this revolution saying,'Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the coffin,' started us thinking about the real aim of this revolution," he said. "So from this point of view, fearing for my life, I declared my support for President Assad."

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Muslims dominate this nation of 22 million people, but Christians can be found at all levels of Syrian government, business and military. The 2 million Christians here trace their roots to ancient communities and have survived under many rulers as Christian enclaves in other Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, have withered.

The rebellion of hundreds of thousands of Muslims against Assad that began in March 2011 has not seen Christians abandon their support for the Alawites, the Muslim sect to which Assad belongs and that has controlled Syria for decades. Christians have largely remained quiet as Assad's forces pummeled rebel cities and towns with artillery, killing close to 10,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Many of Syria's Christians continue to stand by the regime not out of support for Assad but out of fear of civil war if rebels gain strength, or worse, if they win and install an Islamist government that's hostile to religious minorities.

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