Syria: no peace through arming rebels, Aleppo's bishops says

Assad must be part of national dialogue for reconciliation

22 March, 18:54

(ANSAmed) - ROME, MARCH 22 - The international community must help Syria end its civil war through reconciliation and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be a part of that process, the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, told ANSAmed in an interview on Friday.

Some European countries and the US, but not the EU yet, are in favor of arming the rebels in the bloody two-year civil war, but this is not the answer, said the bishop, who is the president of the Syrian Caritas and who is in Rome with other Caritas delegations to raise 5 million euros for Syrian people and refugees in six regions of the country, as well as in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

''The Christians of Syria, like the majority of Syrians, want national reconciliation and peace'', a process that must include Assad as the serving president ''at least until the next elections'', said the Aleppo Bishop, who has been living in Damascus for the past two months. Audo described his city as one in which 200,000 homeless people are ''living in schools and mosques'', 80% of the population is out of a job, families are reduced to poverty, and traveling is out of the question ''because entering and leaving the city is too dangerous''. People live under the constant fear of ongoing battles in ''outlying areas'' and of being kidnapped for ransom by criminals, who flourish because ''there are no authorities left''.

Of Aleppo's 160,000 Christians, 20-30,000 have fled, the bishop said. Does this mean the peaceful interfaith cohabitation that Assad guaranteed has become a thing of the past? ''I don't know, I hope not. It depends on many levels, including the international one, and on finding a political solution in order to stop the violence and guarantee the true interests of Syria'', Audo replied. A Jesuit like the newly appointed Catholic pope, in whom he sees hope for the future of Syria and of Middle Eastern Christians, Audo says the civil war flared for many reasons.

''The sectarian element is foremost. There is a Sunni majority that is trying to wrest power from an Alawite minority,'' he explained. ''This sectarian drive must be viewed within the larger context of the polarity between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which also involves Iraq and Lebanon, and which the media do not talk about enough''. There was also the long-simmering problem of single-party rule for more than four decades, with too many young and educated people facing a desolate future ''in which they saw only unemployment and corruption''. Problems that have only been aggravated ''by the poverty and lack of food caused by two years of war, which affect all families. They are suffering great humiliation,'' Audo stressed.

As far as Syrian Christians, for now ''they do not fear their Syrian neighbors''. Should they suffer the same fate as the Christians of Iraq, however, ''it would be a great loss for Syria, for the universal church, for everyone'', Audo concluded.

(ANSAmed).

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