05/05/2015, 00.00
SYRIA
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Aleppo vicar: facility feeding Christians and Muslims counters “unimaginable” atrocities

As government and rebel forces continue to perpetrate violence, Syria’s old “peaceful mosaic” lies shattered by external forces, Mgr Abou Khazen said. However, small acts of solidarity give some hope. A nun-run facility, funded by Christians and Muslims, feeds 12,000 people a day.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The situation in Aleppo is horrific, and the sufferings and atrocities endured by civilians have reached "unimaginable levels,” said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins.

What was once a peaceful mosaic of 23 different ethnic and religious groups now lies in ruins by a war “instigated from the outside.” However, against a backdrop of death and despair, violence and barbarism, some elements of hope remain alive, rooted in the pre-war period.

Some of it comes from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, a group of nuns helped by Christian and Muslim volunteers and donors who feed up to 12,000 people a day.

Overshadowing this spark of hope, a report by Amnesty International alleges that government forces and many rebel groups continue to commit war crimes on a daily basis in Aleppo, in northern Syria, the country’s second most important city.

Government aircraft have reportedly used barrels bombs, killing at least 3,124 civilians and 35 rebel fighters in Aleppo province from January 2014 to March 2015, targeting public markets, transportation hubs, mosques, hospitals, medical centres, and schools.

Armed opposition groups in Aleppo were also accused of committing war crimes by using mortars and improvised rockets fitted with gas canisters called "hell cannons" and other weapons banned by international conventions, killing some 600 civilians last year.

The rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad are divided in a motley crew of groups, like the Islamist al-Nusra Front and the jihadists of the Islamic State group.

Amnesty’s report also documented "widespread torture, arbitrary detention and abduction by both government forces and armed opposition groups."

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Georges Abou Khazen confirms that "the situation is very difficult, especially for civilians" who have been targeted with "new rockets and missiles never seen before."

Just yesterday, one of the city’s neighbourhoods was “attacked by rebels, and many people are still under the rubbles. Government forces responded, and the [death] toll gets worse.”

For the apostolic vicar, “This war is absurd. It spares no one, neither churches nor mosques, neither hospitals nor schools, which are used to launch attacks and are therefore targets for retaliation. It seems that people have lost their dignity.”

“Many people have fled the city,” Mgr Abou Khazen said. “Some are waiting for the end of the school year or the end of the university term.”

“Big powers provided the weapons and we lost trust. We have not lost hope though. It is part of our faith. The Lord calls upon not to be afraid,” the prelate said, “and this finds confirmation every day in acts of solidarity.”

"Today I visited a facility that provides food to people in need," he explained, a place near the city centre "run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary" with moneys from "Christian and Muslim donors", as well as international institutions and organisations like Caritas and the Red Crescent.

"At present, they are providing food to at least 12,000 people, every day, without distinguishing between the followers of Jesus or Mohammed," the archbishop said.

"In the past, they provided help up to 25,000 people a day through the support of scores of Christian and Muslim volunteers.”

"This is the kind of spirit that existed in Syria before the war. This is the kind of pluralism that we want the world to know – those who from the outside wanted the war – as testimony against fundamentalism, which that is a source of ruin and destruction."

Since unrest broke out against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, more than 3.2 million people fled Syria with other 7.6 million internally displaced.

At least 200,000 people have died since protests turned into open warfare, many of them civilians with last year the worst in terms of casualties.

The Syrian conflict created the conditions for the rise in the spring of 2013 of the Islamic State group, which, through violence and brutality, seized large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory. (DS)

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