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    » 01/11/2016, 00.00


    For Patriarch Laham, Madaya is hostage to armed gangs and terrorists with aid at risk

    Today the first convoy has left for the besieged city, where residents are starving. Food supplies should last at least a month. In the next few days, medical drugs and other necessities should arrive. However, there is a risk that hey might end up in the hands of Daesh and other groups. For Gregory III, the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia threatens peace efforts.

    Damascus (AsiaNews) – Madaya is a city "hostage to people living within in,” armed gangs and terrorist groups, as well as members of Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State), who use civilians as "human shields,” said Gregory III Laham, Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

    Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate said that “contrary to recent media reports, 20,000, not 40,000 people still live in the town” fought over by government and rebel forces.

    "As a Church, we don’t have access to the town,” he explained. “We know that sending aid is risky, because, like elsewhere, they often end up in the hands of criminal gangs and terrorist groups."

    Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to life-saving aid. Madaya, 25 km north of Damascus, is one of them.

    Since early July, the town has been besieged by government forces and their allies in Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement.

    Although there are no updated figures on the number of victims, sources told Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that at least 23 people have died from hunger since 1 December 2015.

    According to UN officials, credible witnesses have said that people have starved to death and others have been killed for trying to flee the area.

    Today, after a long wait, a convoy left for Madaya, with food supplies to last a month for at least 20,000 people.

    Residents had not received any aid since October. With food supplies dwindling, prices have hit the roof. A litre of milk sold on the black market can fetch more than US$ 200.

    In the coming days, medical drugs and other essential non-food items are expected to arrive in the city.

    Gregory III noted that situations like that in Madaya require careful consideration because the aid "could end up in the hands of terrorists, not the people".

    The situation of the city is very similar to that in Yarmouk, which the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus in the past called a "shameful" case because of the silence of the international community.

    "If food arrives, there is the risk that it will be seized,” His Beatitude explained. “The situation is complicated. The issue is not only that the government does not want to let aid in. It is an ongoing crime against the weakest, a war among the big that kills more and more of the weak.”

    The patriarch hopes that aid “will reach the people". As a Church, we appeal to the government and the opposition "not to forget people, life, which must be protected."

    The prelate hopes to see the international community implement the UN peace resolution on Syria reached in New York, despite the complications caused by the crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    In this context of war and violence, "Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy is even more important,” the patriarch said, because it reminds people that "we must not let the fire of hope go out, that we must pray and work for peace and reconciliation."

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    See also

    14/01/2016 SYRIA
    For vicar to Aleppo, first deals between government and rebels are “small steps" to end the war
    For Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, "only the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front want to continue the conflict”. Aid to Madaya, Foah and Kefraya are "encouraging and hopeful signs". In the Middle East, despite a growing desire for peace, outside forces are “exploiting religion and sectarian hatreds for their own economic and political interests.”

    15/02/2016 19:48:00 SYRIA – ISLAM
    In Syria, the real priority should be the fight against Islamic State, not Assad

    In northern Syria, two attacks on hospitals cause scores of civilian casualties. The fragile agreement reached by world powers is undermined by ongoing air strikes and fighting. For Islam scholar Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest, the real steps needed for peace are a stop to Saudi-funded fundamentalism and a real commitment to fight Islamic terrorists.

    18/02/2016 20:50:00 SYRIA – LEBANON
    Young Syrian who survived the Islamic State bears on his body his tormentors’ pain

    Khalifa el-Khoder remembers the torture his tormentors inflicted upon him, including "ballanco". After an extorted confession, he was sentenced to death. Set on escaping, he succeeded thanks to a total stranger who drove him to Aleppo. A freelance journalist now, he dreams of studying at the Sorbonne. But he cannot forget the terrifying violence he endured.

    17/02/2016 18:20:00 SYRIA – LEBANON
    A Muslim imprisoned by the Islamic State for drawing the Virgin Mary

    Khalifa el-Khoder spent seven months in a jihadi prison for drawing Our Lady on a wall in Aleppo as a sign of peace. In his story, he tells of mosques turned into prisons, of overcrowded cells, and of every day torture.

    10/02/2009 SRI LANKA
    Religious personnel under Wanni bombings
    Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in the war zone. There is a lack of food in Wanni: over the past 10 days, only 8 aid trucks have been sent for 250,000 people. No one can enter the refugee centers managed by the government.

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