06/16/2015, 00.00
SYRIA
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For Aleppo vicar, there is little hope and widespread scepticism with regards to the UN mission in Syria

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura arrived yesterday in Damascus. As he did a year ago, the diplomat wants to revive ceasefire talks; meanwhile scores of civilians are killed in Aleppo, including children. Mgr Abou Khazen calls for a stop to the flow of weapons and fighters. The Church's pastoral mission in Syria for the Year of the consecrated life continues.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Speaking about the arrival in Damascus of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, said, "Hope is the last to die, but scepticism is widespread. There is little chance that [de Mistura’s] mission will be successful this time."

UN envoy Mistura arrived in Damascus charged with the difficult task of reviving peace talks to end a conflict that is now in its fifth year. Previously, the UN official had presented the parties with a ceasefire plan for Aleppo; however, unable to find a common ground, rebel groups had rejected it.

For the prelate, “We are really hoping for positive change; however, the situation on the ground has not improved. Like a year ago, there is no united front”.

Those who are fighting and shaping the fate of the war, like the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, “are not Syrians and so have no interest in peace,” said the apostolic vicar after he returned to Aleppo from a pastoral visit to the coastal region.

Finding a peaceful solution to the civil war is jeopardised by divisions within the anti-Assad camp, torn between various radical Islamic movements, including jihadist groups close to the Islamic State group, al Qaeda’s affiliates and other anti-government groups.

Meanwhile, as fighting continues in Aleppo, people continue to die. Recently, rebel rocket fire killed at least 34 civilians in the city’s western neighbourhoods, which are still loyal to Assad.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 300 rockets landed, killing many civilians, including 12 children. However, the number is expected to rise, eyewitnesses said, because almost 200 people were wounded, many in serious condition.

Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, Apostolic Vicar of the Latins, returned to "Aleppo today, after a pastoral visit to the coastal area of ​​Syria and a brief stop in Damascus”. Indeed, despite the war, pastoral work continues.

“Recently, we met with nuns, priests and lay people for the Year of the consecrated life,” he told AsiaNews. "Our mission is to try to continue our pastoral work, support the work of so many people, and be close to them at such an especially trying time”.

In his view, the situation in Syria is getting worse. The West and regional powers in the Arab world and the Middle East must stop providing weapons, training and logistical and financial support.

We are seeing a spiral of unending violence, with government soldiers exhausted by four years of conflict against an adversary that can rely on "hundreds of new fighters every month."

"Let me repeat our long long-standing appeal: stop the war, stop weapons; we must work for peace and reconciliation,” Mgr Abou Khazen said. “Don’t stir war among us; stop the flow of weapons and fighters. Diplomatic, not military pressures are needed to stop the conflict and find a real and concrete path to peace."

More than 3.2 million people have fled Syria with other 7.6 million internally displaced since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

At least 230,000 people have died in the fighting, many of them civilians, especially in 2014.

After it first emerged in 2013 in all its brutality, the Islamic State group seized large chunks of Syrian and Iraqi territories last year. (DS)

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