Widespread "incomprehension" prevails among Aleppo’s civilians who "do not understand" the games big powers are playing on the back of innocent victims, said Sami Hallak, one of two priests working in the city on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman said that people in
northern Syria’s main city are experiencing “utter uncertainty” about
their future and that of the country.
Back in February, he published a ‘Diary of the crisis’
in which he described the difficulties people had to cope with, such
lack of water, acts of violence and bombings, and praised the
"unshakable" faith of Christians, a “miracle” stronger than war and
"We hear the statements of various international leaders, but a
different programme or plan for the city appears every day,” Fr Hallak
said. “We are waiting with confidence, but there is great confusion and
the weight of uncertainty is increasingly difficult to bear."
The failure of the week-long ceasefire
that began with the feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) was followed
by an escalation of violence in Aleppo, once Syria’s economic and
“These are indeed chilling days for Syria and particularly, for the
people of Aleppo, as last week was one of the worst in this six year of
the conflict,” said UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who
added “we have seen the situation in eastern Aleppo deteriorate to new
heights of horror”.
Speaking over the weekend at an emergency meeting of the United
Nations Security Council, he said he was disappointed at the lack of
agreement to resume the ceasefire reached on 9 September by Washington
and Moscow. Because of the chaotic situation, now in Aleppo it is no
longer possible to count the dead.
At the Security Council meeting, France, Great Britain and the United
States increased their pressure on Russia, Syria’s main ally, to stop
Local sources said that since the ceasefire broke down, at least 231
civilians have died.
Although it is impossible to have an official
tally, 115 have died, including 19 children, since 22 September.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed "to all those with influence to end the fighting,” urging "all involved to work harder for an end to the nightmare."
The goal is to stop the bombing to get the truce back on track for at
least 48 hours a week in order to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate
the wounded from the eastern sector of the city.
In the last few days, Damascus and Moscow have used “unprecedented”
force to overcome the resistance of rebels entrenched in eastern Aleppo,
which still has 250,000 civilians (others say 326,000) who have been
without aid for more than two months.
US Ambassador Samantha Power said more than 150 air strikes had hit the city over the past 72 hours.
Syria's foreign minister said on Saturday that his government was
confident of "victory" with support from "true friends" including
Russia, Iran, and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Anti-regime activists report that
the Syrian government has used phosphorus bombs against civilians.
In five years, the war has caused more than 300,000 deaths (430,000
according to other sources) and millions of refugees, sparking an
unprecedented humanitarian disaster. More than 4.8 million people have
fled abroad, and 6.5 million have become internally displaced.
"After five years, peace is still far away," said Father Sami Hallak.
“For us, nothing has changed. On the ground, the situation is one of
great crisis, without electricity and other basic necessities. Poverty
and unemployment are increasing, especially among young people, making
the problem even worst."
In government-controlled western Aleppo, "people continue to lead an
ordinary life" and "there are no serious incidents of violence; rockets
and mortars are no longer falling as in the past," the Jesuit told AsiaNews. “The situation is relatively calm."
By contrast, "the war and fighting rage in the eastern, rebel-held
sector, where one can hear loud bombs and explosions . . . This is where
the fighting is concentrated."
Civilians are confused, wondering "what the future of the city will
be,” Fr Sami noted. “One gets the impression that every day there is a
new plan for Aleppo, and we wait.”
"We only want peace and although it seems a long way off, we maintain
hope,” he added. “We, like all those who stayed in Aleppo, are here to
contribute to the rebirth of the city."
For the priest, the word "mercy" in this Jubilee Year means "sharing
the experience of violence affecting this people, this country, and help
them to return to life. It means being close to those who suffer, and
providing humanitarian and psychological help.”
“We need to heal the deep wounds of war and build the future. We are
here because we have a role and a mission among people who increasingly
find themselves on hard times."