An elderly Dutch priest who refused to leave the embattled city of Homs while Christians remained has become yet another victim of the country's civil war. Frans Van der Lugt, who was in his 70s, was shot dead by unknown gunmen at his home in a rebel-held district of the city, reports the BBC. He had been in Syria for nearly 50 years and insisted on staying when the United Nations evacuated 1,400 people from the city in February, saying it was his duty to stay with his "flock."
The priest did much to publicize the hardship faced by Christians and Muslims alike in the besieged district, which has been cut off by the Syrian military for nearly two years. "This is the death of a man of peace, who showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky and difficult situation," a Vatican spokesman said. Syrian state media blamed rebels for the priest's murder, while opposition groups claimed he had been killed by the government to raise sectarian tensions, the Los Angeles Times reports.