(CNSNews.com) -- Leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Melkite-Greek Catholics in Syria denouned the "brutal aggression" of the April 13/14 airstikes against Syria by the United States, United Kingdom, and France, claiming they were an "unjustified assault on a sovereign country" that had not harmed the assailants "in any way."
In the attacks, U.S., French, and British forces lanuched "precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad," said President Donald Trump on Friday. Defense Secretary James Mattis said that "this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message" to the Syrian government. The Trump administration has not ruled out future airstrikes if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons in the future.
Although it is still unclear whether the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians in Douma on April 7, British, French, and U.S. leaders said they believed they had enough intelligence to warrant the missile attack. "I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes," said Secretary Mattis on April 13. "Absolutely confident of it. And we have the intelligence level of confidence that we needed to conduct the attack."
In their April 14 statement, the patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholics said, "The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence."
We "condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons," said the three leaders: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.
"This brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, member of the UN," said the patriarchs. "It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way."
This "unjust aggression," they said, destroys the chances for a peaceful solution and emboldens terrorists that want the Assad regime overthrown.
"We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call their governments to commit to the protection of international peace," said the patriarchs. "We salute the courage, heroism and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provide security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded."
"We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to Syria and its people," they said.
According to a BBC report of 2015, there are 503,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in Syria, about 150,000 Armenian Christians, and 89,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians.
Also, the Assyrian Church of the East "has about 46,000 followers," said the BBC, and there are about 200,000 Melkite-Greek Catholics. There also are several thousand Protestants of various denominations in Syria, and 25,000 Maronite Christians, according to EWTN.
The history of Christianity in Syria goes all the way back to St. Paul the Apostle, in AD 34, when he had a mystical encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
From about AD 110, St. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, Syria, inaugurated an era of martyrs, said EWTN, and between the 2nd and 4th centuries, "a school of theology developed in Antioch, one of whose most prestigious disciples was John Chrysostom. Monasticism flourished from the 4th-5th century with thousands of ascetics, monks and cenobites. St Simeon the Stylite and St Maron lived not far from Aleppo."