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Masked gunman slays Dutch priest in Homs

A Dutch priest has been shot dead in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. The clergyman was well-known in the area for helping both Christians and Muslims in need.

Father Frans van der Lugt (pictured) was slain on Monday, the Dutch Jesuit order to which he belonged confirmed. A masked gunman reportedly took the 75-year-old priest from his monastery and shot him twice in the head. The motive behind the fatal attack has not been identified.

News of the Jesuit clergyman's sudden death prompted an outpouring of grief from those who knew of his work in embattled Syria.

"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," Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said.

"In this moment of great pain, we also express our great pride and gratitude at having had a brother who was so close to the suffering," the Vatican spokesperson added.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmersmans praised his countryman's contributions to the people of Homs.

"[Father Frans] only brought good to Homs, was a Syrian among Syrian, [who] refused to abandon them even when it meant risking his own life," Timmermans wrote on van der Lugt's Facebook page.

In February, a United Nations-supervised evacuation led to the safe removal of nearly 1,500 Syrians trapped in Homs' Old City, which has been under siege for roughly two years. The Dutch priest qualified for evacuation; however he opted to stay behind.

Van der Lugt described the immense suffering in Homs when he spoke to news agency AFP earlier this year. In an interview given at the time of the evacuation, he explained he would not abandon the people of Homs, haggard from war and in dire need of provisions.

"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 told AFP in February. "I don't see people as Muslims or Christian, I see a human being first and foremost.”

Christians comprise roughly 10 percent of Syria's population. In the mid-1960s, Father Frans moved to Syria, where he earned a reputation for ministering to both religious groups.

kms/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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