Two people were killed and a further 12 injured on Sunday by a bombardment of the newly inaugurated Ayia Sofia church as it was being inaugurated in Syria’s central province of Hama, Syria’s SANA news agency reported.
“A rocket fired by terrorist organisations targeted a religious gathering in the town of al-Suqaylabiyah near Hama, killing two people and wounding 12,” the report said said.
🚨Breaking News | This video shows the terrorist attack on the Aya Sophia Orthodox Church in Hama, Syria. A missile left 2 dead and 12 wounded early Sunday during the inauguration of the church.
Video shared by an attendant. #Hagia_Sophia pic.twitter.com/HSkBfm8iVY
— آسي مينا (@acimenanews) July 24, 2022
SANA said the attack came during a ceremony to inaugurate the Ayia Sofia church, which was constructed with funds from Russia and in response to Turkey’s conversion of the original Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a mosque, considered one of the Holiest Cathedrals in Christendom.
Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, confirmed the attack and gave a toll of one civilian killed and several wounded.
The Observatory said shelling or a drone attack by nearby rebel groups could be to blame.
Sunday’s attack came two days after bombardment killed seven people including four children in the rebel-held Idlib region.
The Observatory said Friday’s fatalities in the Jisr al-Shughur countryside of northern Syria were caused by Russian air strikes.
Around half of Idlib province as well as parts of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces are controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra), the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, which receives support from Turkey.
Other rebel groups in the last pocket of armed opposition to the Damascus regime also remain active, with varying degrees of Turkish backing.
In March 2020, Russia and Turkey brokered a truce in Idlib and neighboring areas that still holds, despite sporadic attacks from both sides, including Russian air strikes.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
A scaled-down version of the 6th century cathedral and former seat of the Orthodox Greek Church was built in Syria’s western province of Hama with funding from Russia.
Originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under the presidency of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Turkey’s reconversion of the site has been met with international condemnation.
Nabel Abdullah, the commander of the Syrian National Defence Forces militia, donated the land for the church in the city of al-Suqaylabiyah, home to a sizeable Greek Orthodox population.
The more than 17,000 residents of Suqaylabiyah are overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox, as previously reported by Greek City Times.
The Greek Orthodox militias in Syria, who have remained loyal to the government battling Turkish-backed jihadists, have successfully defending their towns and churches without any assistance from Greece.