Aleppo, even more than Baghdad, would be considered the last place that the Christmas spirit would prevail. The city, recently recaptured from rebels by Russian-backed Syrian government troops, has been the scene of some of the worst atrocities in modern times, with indiscriminate bombing and death squads massacring unarmed civilians. However, Aleppo’s Christian community, which regards the regime of Bashir Assad as their protector, celebrated Christmas with the lighting of a Christmas tree in Azizieh square in the western part of the city, long held by government troops. The ceremony, attended by dozens of people, including some wearing red Santa suits, was marred by an explosion, according to the Associated Press, of an IED or a mortar shell being fired is not currently known.

Though the incident spread panic, no casualties were reported.

One of the largely untold stories of Aleppo is that while Syrian and Russian forces committed atrocities in rebel-held Eastern Aleppo, Syrian Christians in the western part of the venerable city had been subject to persecution by the rebels, which had come to be dominated by Islamist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Christian churches came under shell fire and Christians themselves were subjected to murder and harassment.

The Economist points out the dilemma faced by the Christian community over the tragedy of Aleppo. On the one hand, no one with any humanity can approve of the tactics that Syrian troops and the Russian Air Force used to clear Aleppo of rebels.

Untold thousands of civilians have been massacred and many more made into refugees. On the other hand, the end of the siege has brought some relief to the city’s Christian community, one of the oldest in the world.

The celebration in Azizieh square was as much for a “return to normalcy,” whatever that means in the blood-soaked Middle East, as it was for Christmas, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar.

The explosion was a stark reminder that the ideal of peace and goodwill toward man are elusive concepts in the Middle East, where religious differences are not tolerated, but rather are expressed in blood letting.

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