Violence in the city of Qusayr in central Syria has caused its 50,000 original inhabitants to almost totally desert it, as government and rebel forces battled for control of the strategically important site for the last two years.
The devastation is evident everywhere. According to the government telecoms chief Mtanios al-Shaer, "The terrorists destroyed everything 24 hours before the town was liberated, and caused damage of a billion Syrian pounds ($57 million)."
Qusayr had a significant Christian and Muslim population, and both suffered the ransacking of their holy sites. The Greek Catholic Mar Elias Church and the Sunni Muslim Grand Mosque were both almost totally destroyed. Though some icons have been recovered, they suffered grievous damage, with burns and tears running through the gilded works of art.
The golden dome of Mar Elias Church is riddled with holes now, and its marble altar has been broken. The mosque's minaret was badly damaged, and the prayer hall is covered with debris.
Some of the few residents who have stayed in Qusayr remain hopeful for the future as they try to rebuild their shattered lives. A 40-year-old technician Jafaar Nassur, explained, "We have cleaned up our desecrated church, and together we'll try to return it to the state it should be in with whatever means we have."
See photos of the destruction here:
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