Thursday, March 09, 2017

SYRIA - Father Ibrahim: Signs of hope from diplomacy, but situation still dramatic in Aleppo

Image result for Fr. Alsabagh IbrahimThe 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 the people."

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 year end."

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. 

"If 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."

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