Syria conflict: Christians 'fleeing homes'

image captionMany of Syria's Christians are fearful for their future

A senior Church leader in Syria has said almost a third of the country's Christians have fled their homes.

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham told the BBC that more than 450,000 Christians out of a total population of 1.75 million had been displaced or left the country.

However, he was adamant that the Christian community would survive.

Patriarch Gregorios also expressed hope that the initiative to destroy Syria's chemical weapons might lead to peace.

Last month, the UN Security Council ended two-and-a-half years of deadlock over Syria by adopting a resolution that demanded the elimination of the country's arsenal by mid-2014.

The resolution also backed US and Russian efforts to convene an international meeting in Geneva to find a political solution to the conflict, which has left more than 100,000 people dead.

'New vision'

BBC world affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan says Patriarch Gregorios came to the UK with a doggedly optimistic message.

Even as the war on the ground rages, he said international agreement over chemical weapons had given a unique opportunity for peace.

In particular, he said he wanted the international community to block the flow of weapons into Syria.

"We have to have campaign together - no more weapons, no more violence, go together to a better new vision of life," he said.

Syria's minority Christian community has faced growing violence, but he said it was not dependent for its survival on President Bashar al-Assad's secular government.

In fact, Patriarch Gregorios thought Christians could in fact help bring the warring sides together.

"We have to have a new vision, and that is our work as Christians, especially the Christian Arabs have to play this role to change the vision."

Our correspondent says Patriarch Gregorios has often been accused of being a supporter of the government, but he strongly denied that.

He said he wanted foreign fighters to go home, and for a new government of national unity to include the opposition. Whether or not Mr Assad was removed should be a secondary issue, he added.