05/23/2016, 17.48
SYRIA
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Aleppo Pastor: attack on the Franciscan College harms civilians, sows chaos and terror

For Fr Ibrahim, the terrorist attack was meant to cause panic in the population. The Jihadi message is "either with us or you die”. Rockets hit a retirement home, killing a 94-year-old woman, and wounding two more. Islamic State attacks in Tartus and Jableh, which killed more than 100, is a "message" to the Russians.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, 44, a Franciscan pastor and keeper of the Latin parish of St Francis in Aleppo, Syria’s northern capital, spoke to AsiaNews about the latest attacks in the city.

On Saturday evening, Jihadis launched two rockets against the Terra Sancta College, which is run by the Franciscan (pictured), killing one, and seriously injuring two elderly people who had sought refuge there.

For the clergyman, those who launched the rockets were aiming at the “area where the Terra Sancta College is located, which is next to military barracks for young recruits”.

Jihadis “target civilians to cause panic among people.” This is a “terrorist-style attack meant to strike at the innocent to send a message: either you are with us, or you die,” Fr Ibrahim explained. They want to sow chaos and instil fear in the population “by terrorising people into choosing between them or we wipe you out. This is why they target the innocent before the military.”

The woman who “died was 94 years old.” She had sought shelter at the centre to "escape the violence of the war."

The wounded "are two women, in their 80s, who were also staying at the college’s senior citizens’ centre, which had been relocated in April 2015 after the St Vincent de Paul Centre came under attack.”

"The elderly women thought it would be safe and that they might die in peace inside the Custody, but that was not the case,” the clergyman said.

About 20 elderly people live in the college who were bombed out of their homes. Until now, the centre, its school and the big park around it had been one of the safest sites in the city, and had been spared the blind violence that has so far killed 280,000 people in five years.

It was considered "almost the safest area Aleppo", Fr Ibrahim said. It had been hit only by two or three rockets in five years. The compound was big, and included a school, which was the most prestigious one in the city.

At some point, government soldiers requisitioned a section “to set up barracks for young recruits”. However, it was still “left in peace, some sort of green lung in Aleppo, the only place where families could come for their children to breathe clean air.” People came for the camping, “which we were restoring,” Fr Ibrahim said, to host local families.

In Aleppo, the Franciscans have three centres: the parish of St Francis of Assisi, which was hit once, the Er Ram convent, which was hit five times, and Terra Sancta College. "Now none has been spared by bombs and rockets.”

In their latest attack, the Jihadis used a metre-and-half long rocket, not an artillery shell. This shows that “the military potential available to extremist Islamist groups is growing. Their goal is to hit western Aleppo,” which is under government control, and “where Christians live”.

Today, several attacks were carried out in two cities on the Syrian coast, Tartus and Jableh, in Latakia province, a government stronghold. At least a hundred people were killed with more than 120 wounded.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attacks, the pro-IS Amaq news agency reported.

Alawis, a religious minority to which Syrian President Bashar al Assad belongs, were the target, but Christians, Sunnis, and Shias also live in the area, Fr Ibrahim said.

Tarsus is also the home base for Russia’s Mediterranean fleet. This is why the attacks are probably “directed at Moscow rather than Damascus”.

IS wants to show that it can “strike everywhere and sow chaos” with “ever more sophisticated weapons”.

The tragedy for the clergyman is the fact that “ordinary folks, who are innocent, always pay the price” of car bombs, embargo and sanctions.

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