The Syrian civil war has "irrevocably damaged" the country's religious diversity, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement on the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict March 15.
According to the Commission, which monitors religious freedom – or the lack thereoft – worldwide and works within friendly governments to promote religious liberty, the conflict between the Baathist administration of Bashar Al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Al-Qaeda's Al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State has claimed as many as 470,000 lives, most of them civilian. The Commission also said as many as 4.7 million Syrians have fled the country and are now international refugees.
Another 6.5 million Syrians were described as "internally displaced."
"This brutal conflict has become sectarian in nature, with Syria now an overwhelmingly hostile place for all ethno-religious groups, including Alawites, Christians, Druze, Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, and Turkmen," the USCIRF statement said.
USCIRF Chairman Robert George said the needs for humanitarian assistant are on a scale generally unprecedented.
USCIRF labeled Syria a "Country of Particular Concern" in 2014, meaning the conditions favorable for the open exchange of religious ideas and freedom of religion were non-existent. The presence of ISIS there, along with other militants, such as Hezbollah fighters working to preserve Assad's rule, makes ending the conflict near impossible.
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That isn't stopping the USCIRF from trying. In its statement, the Commission called on the U.S. government to "work with our international partners to prioritize the protection of and assistance to all non-combatant Syrians, especially vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities, and help ensure that issues related to religious freedom and human rights are included in any political negotiations that seek to end this devastating crisis."
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Paris that the Islamic State's "campaign of evil" has now spilled over from Iraq and Syria, "and all of us have come here united in our deep belief that the Syrian civil war must end."
"Against all odds, against most predictions, we have been able to sustain for two weeks now a cessation of hostilities – which we all acknowledge has tensions here and there, but which has nevertheless been able to produce 80 to a 90 percent reduction in the level of violence – and we are all well aware of the record numbers of migrants who are seeking refuge not just in the Middle East, but now pushing into a Europe that is already facing challenges," Kerry said.
Kerry was in Paris meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-March Ayrault, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammon, European High Representative Federica Mogherini, and Italian Foreign Minister Pailo Gentiloni.
Syria's Christian population in areas controlled by ISIS is now viritually non-existent.