0318 GMT January 23, 2019
The Chaldean Catholic bishop, Antoine Audo, said on Wednesday that about 80 percent of Syria’s Christian population would support Assad if he stood for reelection.
Speaking to reporters in Switzerland’s city of Geneva, Audo criticized “propaganda” against the Syrian leader, insisting that there was no persecution of Christians by the government.
He further said that ongoing deadly conflict in the country aimed to “destabilize the Syrian society and transform the war into a confessional war."
The bishop added that other minorities and communities in the country also supported Assad in his fight against “the extremists.”
Audo stated that different terrorist groups including the Daesh militants fighting the government in Damascus posed a serious threat to Syrian Christians, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the country.
According to Audo, the country’s 1.5 million Christian population before the start of the foreign-backed militancy in 2011 now stands at about 500,000, “due to insecurity.”
He said only around 40,000 of Aleppo’s once 160,000 Christian population remained in the province, adding that the community faced great dangers day to day.
The Christian figure also noted that Damascus has served as a model for peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims and that the current situation has been "imported."
The comments come as UN-brokered indirect negotiations between the Damascus government and the foreign-backed opposition, aimed at resolving the five-year conflict, resumed in Geneva on March 14. The first round stalled on February 3 after the opposition refused to continue the talks.
The Syrian foreign-backed opposition has been insisting on the removal of Assad as a precondition for the establishment of a transitional government.
The foreign-sponsored crisis in Syria flared in March 2011. The conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people and displaced almost half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders, according to a February report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research.