BEIRUt: A gunman in Syria’s central city of Homs shot and killed well-known Dutch priest Frans van der Lugt on Monday, a monitoring group and the Dutch Jesuit Order said.
His death was also reported by Syria’s state news agency SANA, which said he had died immediately after being shot, citing a source in the Homs governorate.
The Britain-based Observatory said the motive for the attack was unclear. Van der Lugt had gained renown for insisting on staying on in besieged Homs despite daily shelling and dwindling supplies.
“I can confirm that he’s been killed,” Jan Stuyt, secretary of the Dutch Jesuit Order, told AFP by phone.
“A man came into his house, took him outside and shot him twice in the head. In the street in front of his house.”
Stuyt said he was not aware of particular threats to van der Lugt, adding that the priest would be buried in Syria “according to his wishes.”
Van der Lugt spent nearly five decades in Syria, and told AFP in February that he considered the country to be his home.
“The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties,” he said.
He stayed on even as some 1,400 people were evacuated during a U.N.-supervised operation that began on Feb. 7 and also saw limited supplies of food brought into the city.
Homs’s Old City, under rebel control, has been besieged by government forces for nearly two years, creating increasing dire circumstances for those unable to leave.
“The faces of people you see in the street are weak and yellow. Their bodies are weakened and have lost their strength,” Van der Lugt told AFP before the U.N. operation.
“What should we do, die of hunger?”
The siege and continued shelling in the city whittled away the Old City’s population, including a Christian community that shrunk from tens of thousands to just 66, according to the Dutch priest.
A Jesuit, Father Frans arrived in Syria in 1966 after spending two years in Lebanon studying Arabic.