Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For Jesuit priest, big powers’ confused plans fuel Aleppo’s tragedy

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 death.

"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 commercial capital.

“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 the bombing.

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."

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