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News

Dutch Jesuit shot dead in Homs was 'ray of joy and hope'
07 April 2014 11:39 by Abigail Frymann Rouch

A Dutch Jesuit priest who had opted to remain in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, Fr Frans van der Lugt, was shot dead this morning.

A masked gunman opened fire on Fr van der Lugt, killing him instantly, according to the Associated Press.

Homs-based priest Assad Nayyef and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the assailant shot to death Fr van der Lugt inside a monastery in the city's Bustan al-Diwan neighbourhood.

The motives for the attack were not immediately known.

Syrian Jesuit Fr Ziad Hilal, 40, described Fr van der Lugt as "a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City".

He added that it was not possible to reach the Old City to recover Fr van der Lugt’s corpse.

Yesterday at least 29 Syrian rebels including two field commanders were killed when a vehicle exploded in Homs at a market near a police base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the death toll was expected to rise.

Fr van der Lugt, who had lived in Syria for almost 50 years, had championed the plight of people still trapped in Homs. A few months ago he said: “As long as there is one person from our community left here, I will stay with them.”

In February UN and Red Crescent workers evacuated more than 1,300 civilians from the Old City during a temporary truce that accompanied peace talks in Geneva between government and opposition representatives.

Fr Hilal told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the aid workers had been urgently required to leave Homs and go to another city before finishing the evacuations.

“Fr Frans and the remaining 20-25 Christians in the city did not manage to leave in time,” he said.

In January in a video posted on Youtube Fr van der Lugt had warned that the Muslims and Christians trapped in Homs were facing severe shortages of food and medicine. "There is nothing to eat. There is nothing worse than to see people in the streets looking for something to eat for their children.” He added: “There are so many people here that need operations and or specialist medical treatment but have to wait a long time, and are forced to go through immense suffering.”

He went on: “Given these conditions it is impossible for the international community and us not to do something together … I will not accept that we die of hunger."

Most of Homs, an early rebel stronghold in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, was recaptured by government forces in mid-2012, leaving up to 3,000 civilians holed up alongside fighters in the remaining rebel enclaves.

Above: Fr van der Lugt pictured in January urging civilians them to be patient. Photo: CNS/Reuters