Two dead, dozen wounded in Turkish-allied Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham attack on Hagia Sophia Church inauguration in Suqaylabiyah, Syria

SUQAYLABIYAH, Syria — On Sunday morning, a crowd of people of the predominantly-Greek Orthodox city of Al-Suqaylabiyah, Syria, gathered to celebrate the opening of the Hagia Sophia Church in the city center.

In July 2020, after the decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque, an idea was put forward to build a replica of Hagia Sophia in Syria.

The inauguration ceremony was attacked by the Turkish-allied extremist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) using rockets, leaving two attendees dead and a dozen wounded.

Although designated a terrorist organization by the Turkish government in 2018, in recent years the relationship between Turkey and HTS has dramatically shifted.

HTS has fought alongside the Turkish-backed and funded Syrian National Army (SNA) and several Turkish military outposts have been constructed inside HTS-controlled Edleb.

HTS has also joined a joint operations room with the SNA, the Unified Military Council (UMC), in October 2020.

Al-Suqaylabiyah is located in the countryside northwest of Hemto (Hama).

The area has been subjected to routine bombardment from rebel-held Edleb (Idlib) over the course of the civil war.

Most of those killed in the city have been Christians. The community has persevered through the last decade of conflict, poor economic circumstances, and poor service provision by the Syrian regime.

Greek Orthodox priests lay the cornerstone of the Syrian-replica of Hagia Sophia in Al-Suqaylabiyah, Syria. (Image: EHA News)