(changes dateline, updates with Vatican and Dutch comments)
VATICAN CITY, April 7 (Reuters) - A Dutch Jesuit priest was beaten and shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his monastery in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Monday, the Vatican said.
Frans van der Lugt, 75, who had been living in Syria since the early 1970s, was a man of great courage who had refused to leave the city despite the danger there, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
"Father Frans was killed in the garden of our monastery," Rev. Ziad Hillal, another Jesuit who lived there with the Dutch priest, told Vatican Radio. "They shot him in the head. It was a premeditated act."
The Jesuit order in the Netherlands said the priest was taken from the monastery in the morning and shot twice in the head.
Lombardi praised van der Lugt as a man of great courage who "despite an extremely difficult and risky situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated his life and his spiritual service."
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote on his Facebook page that van der Lugt "only brought good to Homs, was a Syrian among Syrians, (who) refused to abandon them even when it meant risking his own life."
Christians made up about 10 percent of Syria's population before protests in 2011 led to a wider civil war. The minority traditionally supported President Bashar al-Assad for protecting them and has been attacked by his opponents for that stand. (Reporting By Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Philip Pullella in Rome.; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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