Genocide against Christians across the Middle East prompted the region's Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs to call for foreign intervention Wednesday during a meeting at the Maronite patriarchate in Lebanon.
Islamic State forces, along with other jihadist groups, have systematically destroyed ancient Christian communities in both Syria and Iraq since the start of Syria's civil war in 2012.
"The international community cannot keep silent about the existence of the so-called," the patriarchs said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State. "They should put an end to all extremist terrorist groups and criminalize aggression against Christians and their properties."
Pope Francis issued a similar statement earlier this month.
The Christian leaders previously were reluctant to encourage foreign intervention in the Syrian civil war. Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, whose church is based in Damascus, charged in August 2013 that foreign intervention in Syria fueled "hatred, fueling criminality, fueling inhumanity, fueling fundamentalism, terrorism."
A prior statement by three of the Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs in December 2011 similarly opposed foreign intervention.
Developments since then led to the change in posture. Those include the Islamic State's imposition of the Quran-mandated jizyah tax on Christians in Syria and in Iraq. Christians must choose among paying the tax, converting to Islam or facing death. In addition, the slaughter of Christians and the desecration of their churches forced the patriarchs' hands.
"The very existence of Christians is at stake in several Arab countries – notably in Iraq, Syria and Egypt – where they have been exposed to heinous crimes, forcing them to flee," the patriarchs' statement said.
They called on Muslim religious leaders to issue a fatwa forbidding attacks on Christians, describing their silence so far as "painful." The United Nations Security Council must take steps toward "eradicating" the Islamic State or else Christian suffering will continue, they added.
A recent incursion by the Islamic State into Lebanon, which experienced its own bloody 15-year sectarian civil war during the 1970s and 1980s, heightened the patriarchs' distress.
"We reject religious extremism in Lebanon. Lebanon is a country for all and not a country where there are different religious emirates," they said.
Lebanon's constitution requires its president to be a Maronite Catholic, but that office has been vacant since former Lebanese President Michel Suleiman's term ended May 25.
A series of tweets by an Islamic State supporter on Thursday show Lebanon remains squarely in the terrorists' sights and that they plan to force Christians there to pay the jizyah or get them to flee to France.