by Worthy News's Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (Worthy News)-- Thousands of Christians have fled their homes in Syria where news emerged Tuesday, July 3, that intelligence agencies run dozens of torture centers where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and have fingernails torn out.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) group said it identified 27 abuse centers which have been used since President Bashar al-Assad's government began a crackdown in March 2011 on pro-democracy protesters trying to oust him.
HRW added that it conducted over 200 interviews with people who were tortured, including a 31-year-old man who was detained in the Idlib area in June and made to undress.
"Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful," the man was quoted as saying in the report.
"They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days," he added.
CHRISTIANS ALSO SUFFER
Christians have also suffered abuse, including from rebels who accuse them of supporting the regime or observing a 'Western religion' and some believers have been killed, according to church groups.
Among those recently killed was Atallah Ibrahim Bitar, who was shot dead while reportedly taking food to people forced into hiding by a week-long bombardment, Christian aid workers said.
And, at least 78 people were confirmed killed in violence across Syria on Monday, July 2, 44 of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Over 16,500 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the uprising erupted in March last year, according to rights groups and opposition estimates.
CHRISTIAN EXODUS UNDERWAY
The violence has sparked an exodus of Christians, including from city of Qusayr, about 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) southwest of Homs in a mountainous area overlooking Syria's border with Lebanon, said aid and advocacy group Barnabas Fund. Many reportedly flee to other parts of Syria or to neighboring countries.
Most of the 10,000 Christian residents have left the area, "after reportedly being given an ultimatum to leave, a threat which was also echoed by the mosques," the group told Worthy News in a statement.
"Two Christian leaders among those fleeing the city said that they heard the following message from the minarets: 'Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending June 8'."
Barnabas Fund, which is working in the region, described the city as "an extremely dangerous place for those who remain and it is clear that Christians no longer feel safe in their homes."
PROVIDING FOOD SUPPLIES
The group said it is providing food, medicine and other essentials "to the neediest Christian families affected by the unrest."
Earlier, Dutch aid group 'Kerk in Nood', or 'Church in Need', told Worthy News that in Homs itself 90 percent of Christians living there fled after "fanatics" forced them to leave their homes.
It said 50,000 people have fled Homs since February.
"They have fled to villages and in the mountains, sometimes as far as 50 kilometers from their homes. We have reports that Islamists 'cleansed' the Homs areas of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan without giving [Christians] the opportunity to take anything with them," the group told Worthy News recently.
Christians have expressed concerns over who will takeover the country once President Bashar al-Assad leave office, amid fears of an Islamic takeover, concerns shared by Christian groups in other countries in the region facing political upheaval, including Egypt.