11/13/2012, 00.00
SYRIA
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New Syrian national coalition wants weapons, "not only bread"

Arab League endorses new group, set up after long discussions among various Syrian opposition groups in Doha (Qatar). Viewed now as the only voice of the Syrian people, it will be led by the former imam of the Great Mosque in Damascus. An appeal is made to Western nations to arm the rebels. In the meantime, Syrian cities continue to suffer as a result of war, famine and runaway crime.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The Arab League has recognised the new National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It will be the only group to represent the Syrian people.

The new group agreed to in Doha (Qatar) on Sunday after long discussions will be led by Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a Sunni and a former imam of the Great Mosque in Damascus, together with George Sabra, a Christian, who was recently chosen as the president of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in Syria.

Moaz will lead a coalition that brings together various groups that emerged following the start of the anti-Assad revolt in March 2011. Western nations are expected to recognise the group shortly. However, despite efforts to bring together opposition groups, no shared political agenda has been agreed to stop the violence and impose a ceasefire.

The dreaded "descent into the underworld" that Mgr Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus had predicted in an interview with AsiaNews, has occurred, made worse by the collapse of diplomatic efforts in favour of war. In fact, the two new leaders of the Syrian opposition have said that armed struggle is the only way to defeat Assad and help the Syrian people.

According to Moaz, the international community must act the way it did in Libya against Gaddafi and Iraq against Saddam Hussein. For Sabra, Syrian rebels need weapons "not just bread and water," because "The regime continues to stock up arms" from its historical ally, Russia.

So far, the West has been stalling over possible NATO action or giving weapons directly to the rebels. Instead, they have been doing it through Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

With international recognition, the new coalition will now be able to receive money and weapons from foreign countries, albeit not the United States or the European Union.

For Qatar Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya, with international legitimacy, the coalition can secure weapons without external approval.

Sources told AsiaNews that the flow of weapons is making the situation worse and more chaotic. People are getting tenser by the day. The war has reached Damascus, where fighting has broken out in the central neighbourhoods, and after many months, it has devastated Aleppo, the country's trading hub.

No one knows how many people have died so far. At the low end, some 30,000 people are thought to have died; at the high end, the death toll might be 50,000. And it is non-stop. Today, for example, fighting and air strikes were reported in the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Deir Izzour, al-Raqqah, Deraa and Reef Dimashq.

"In Syria, everyone is armed. There is no security and the presence of foreign fighters has been confirmed," the sources explained.

Non-Syrians have attacked and desecrated Christian sites in Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Izzour.  "Syrians have always respected Christians and would never have done such things."

 Air strikes and the humanitarian crisis are compounded by abductions and crime. Thugs can act in a situation of impunity and lawlessness.

"Some believe that such acts are connected to sectarianism, to the conflict between Alawis and Sunnis," the sources said. However, the thugs themselves acknowledge that they "kidnap for money, not for political reasons."

Meanwhile people continue to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries, like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. According to UN sources, some 400,000 Syrians have fled abroad.

Through Caritas, the Church is one of the few organisations to provide actual help to those displaced, forced into in makeshift camps unrecognised by the authorities, without water and power.

Card Robert Sarah, head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and special papal envoy to Lebanon in lieu of a delegation of the Synod of Bishops in Syria, said he saw "unprecedented suffering" among refugees fleeing the civil war.

At "the border with Syria," he saw "A mother [who] wanted to entrust to me her four-month-old son, because she had left her husband behind in Syria and didn't know when she would see him again."

Christian and Muslim refugees asked him to call on the pope to pray for them. (S.C.)

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