The diplomatic meetings are always "a sign of hope for us" and certainly the talks that took place in Geneva "have something positive for us. Of course, the different opinions have clearly emerged, the way ahead is very long, there are obstacles, but it is always a sign of hope”, Fr. Alsabagh Ibrahim, a 44 year old Franciscan, guardian and parish priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo, comments to AsiaNews on the latest round of peace talks on Syria, under the UN auspices, which concluded yesterday in Geneva.
"Here in Aleppo we continue to cultivate this hope - adds the priest -
holding fast to the path indicated by the Church even before the
conflict. We have to change many things, but you can do it only through
dialogue, not arms ".
"The clearing of armed groups from Aleppo - said Fr. Ibrahim - is a
successful result of the dialogue, a compromise reached through
mediation by all parties involved. And it was a crucial turning point
for the city's inhabitants. "
"We also know - he adds - that there are many agreements on the
ground between the fighting groups here, we hope that these agreements
and dialogue in Geneva, together, are positive signals for the good of
According to reports from the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de
Mistura, the peace talks in Geneva (Switzerland) concluded "on a more
positive note" with respect to past meetings. Of course, from the
meetings this week - the first in about a year under the aegis of the
United Nations - there were no substantial new or significant advances.
However, the senior UN official claims the atmosphere was better than
the "indirect talks" of the past. These small steps forward were also
favored by the Astana meetings in January, mediated by Turkey, Russia
and Iran. These talks gathered government representatives on one side
and "all" the main opposition groups on the other for the first time.
"The train is ready - said de Mistura – it is in the station, warming
up the engine. It just needs to depart". Government delegates left the
venue of the talks without comment. Nasr al-Hariri, lead opposition
negotiator stated: "Despite having closed this round of talks without
specific results ... I can say that this time they were more positive."
"For the first time - he concludes - we have discussed Syria and the
future of the political transition in Syria in sufficient depth."
Now the goal is to hold a new series of meetings [the fifth] by the
end of March or the first days of next month. At the center of the
discussions four key elements: the form of government, a draft
constitution, elections and the fight against terrorism. This last point
was inserted under pressure from the government delegation, which also
considers all rebel groups and fighters "terrorists". For the United
Nations terrorist groups, excluded from peace talks, include: the
Islamic state (IS) and the former Nusra Front, once the al-Qaeda branch
in the Arab country.
While international diplomacy struggles to find a way out of a
conflict now in its seventh year that has caused more than 310 thousand
deaths and millions of refugees, Aleppo is experiencing a slow return to
normal. "We are doing much better than before with the missiles - says
Fr. Ibrahim - although in different areas of the periphery fighting
continues and injured are still arriving in hospitals on a daily basis."
The main problem is the lack of electricity and water energy, people
are forced to queue day and night to fetch it from wells or from tanker
trucks. "There is no water for almost 60 days - says the priest - and
the situation is beginning to become dramatic." Some people are trying
to re-open their businesses, to rebuild their daily life from the
pre-war period. "These are personal initiatives - he says - but they are
drops in the ocean of need and the city's economy is still
subsistence... We have to rebuild from scratch."
Faced with the need, the local Church has launched a number of
projects that look to the medium term. "We continue to provide food,
water, medicine - says Fr. Ibrahim - to meet the emergency needs. Added
to this are redevelopment projects of houses demolished or damaged in
the conflict. To date we have 700 repair requests, last year we repaired
268 homes and in January alone 30. The goal is to get to 2 thousand by
The projects, however, collide with real difficulties: "For example -
says the priest - the project of arrangement of the houses: we can
count on the work of six engineers from various Christian denominations,
however, we lack manpower. Young people have fled or were subjected to
compulsory military detention and sent to war. A dramatic situation."
The Church has promoted two projects: the first concerns the economic
support for small businesses, with the approval of the project.
they are valid - says the priest - we fund them to allow the reopening
of the activities." And then the young couples who got married during
the war: "This initiative - said Father. Ibrahim – is very important for
the future of Aleppo: we have more than 750 families with small
children or just married. We give them support for food expenses,
electricity, health care coverage. We want to protect the primary core
and the base of society, interacting with them we discover how great the
needs really are."