10/17/2013, 00.00
SYRIA
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Gregorios III: Christians do not need Assad to survive

The Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch condemns acts of violence against the religious minority, which constituted 7.8 per cent of Syria's population in 2011. For the prelate, Christians are a valuable asset for Syria who, along with Muslims, can create a "new vision" for the country.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Christians are a great asset for ending the conflict and do not need to Assad to survive, Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch Greek Catholic, told the BBC in an interview. "We have to have a new vision," the bishop said, "and that is our work as Christians, especially the Christian Arabs have to play this role to change the vision."

Praising the recent decision to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, the prelate said it brought new hope to the country. He stressed, however, that to stop the war there must be a desire for reconciliation, and a peace conference must be organised.

Gregorios III is adamant that a stable solution would come only when all foreign fighters go back home. Only this way can a national unity government be created, with members from the opposition and the regime.

The war and the violence have reached such a level that Assad's departure has become secondary, he added.

Hunger, poverty and Islamist attacks have displaced or forced out more than 450,000 Syrian Christians, this in a community which, before the revolution, numbered some 1.75 million people, or 7.8 per cent of the population. Yet, despite the exodus, the Melkite bishop is convinced that the Christian community will survive.

With the fragmentation of the Free Syrian Army, the only secularist group fighting Assad, jihadists from various countries have been able to step in and now control various parts of the country, including the province of Aleppo.

Until 2012, the war was largely political, not based on sectarian hatred. This gave the Christian minority some protection from both the army and rebels.

Now, with the rise of extremist groups such as al-Jabhat Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, considered by Islamists themselves as the most radical groups in Syria, the conflict has turned into a sectarian war with an exponential rise in violence against Christians.

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