The Vatican says a Dutch priest has been shot dead at his monastery in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.
The 75-year-old Jesuit priest, Frans Van Der Lugt, had lived in Syria for decades and had refused to leave Homs despite more than a year of intense fighting there.
Witnesses say the priest appeared to have been directly targeted. They say an unknown gunman entered the monastery Monday, took Van Der Lugt to the garden and shot him in the head.
Van Der Lugt was a well-known figure in Homs, a rebel-held city that has been under a government siege for more than a year. The priest was respected by many for his efforts to get a blockade lifted so that aid could enter the city.
A Vatican spokesman said Van Der Lugt showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky situation.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States is "saddened" by the news of Van Der Lugt's death. She said the priest worked to mitigate the immense suffering in Homs. The spokeswoman also deplored continued threats against Christians in Syria.
Some Islamist militants among Syria's rebels have targeted Christians, forcing more than 450,000 of them to flee their homes. Before the civil war, Syria had an estimated Christian population of 2.5 million.