06/12/2012, 00.00
SYRIA

Nuncio in Damascus: Syria sliding into hell, children used as human shields

Mgr Mario Zenari, nuncio in Syria, describes the human devastation caused by the war. There is the danger that factional hatreds might last decades. Christian, Alawi and Sunni leaders in Homs propose dialogue and reconciliation. UN report blames regime and rebels of torturing children.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - "Syria has started its slide into hell. In addition to material destruction, the conflict is tearing at the heart. The destruction of homes, the dead and the wounded can be quantified, but the disintegration of the soul is impossible to measure," Mgr Mario Zenari told AsiaNews. "The danger of latent factional hatred exploding is there and could last decades. However, I am confident in future peace," the apostolic nuncio to Damascus said.

The violent escalation that has intensified in the past few months is affecting everyone, including children, the prelate explained. Against their will, they have become part of the conflict.

As media around the world report stories of massacres, torture and violence, children run the risk of being used by both sides.

In a just released report titled Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the United Nations presents the stories of children as young as nine used as human shields by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The study does not spare the opposition from criticism. The rebel Free Syrian Army is accused of recruiting hundreds of child soldiers, ranging from nine to 15 years of age.

"The death of innocent youth and their use a human shields or soldiers is an unacceptable crime," the bishop said. "The international community and the United Nations must do all they can to defend these innocent victims, exploited by the regime and rebels alike. [. . .] Sadly, beside the war on the ground, a media war is being waged so that we can't believe what anybody is saying."

However, there are signs that grassroots dialogue and reconciliation are still possible, Mgr Zenari noted. On 25 May in Homs, one of the main hate-filled battlegrounds, some Christian leaders organised a reconciliation (Musalaha in Arabic) assembly for interreligious dialogue that brought in Sunnis and Alawis.

In the past few days, the group organised various meetings with civil society groups and delegates from Damascus.

Thus far, its focus has been on finding missing or abducted people and securing their release by convincing families and factions to give up arms in favour of peaceful agreements.

"The war situation is not helpful," he said, "but we hope to extend this initiative to other Syrian cities."

Mgr Zenari is certain that dialogue can lead to real results. "The international community, especially Christian countries, must not isolate Syria. Support for the wall-to-wall clash between regime and rebels is dangerous and counterproductive." (S.C.)

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