07/29/2020, 17.07
SYRIA
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Nuncio to Syria breaks silence over the fate of Fr Dall’Oglio and the 100,000 missing in the Syrian conflict

For seven years, nothing has been known about the fate of founder of the Mar Musa community, who disappeared in Raqqa on 29 July 2013. Card Zenari notes that the clergyman, like many of the missing, was as "card" to be played in the Syrian power game. Prisoners “must be freed or the families must be informed”. Some “good will” is needed.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Seven years ago, Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, founder of the community of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashio in northern Syria, about 80 kilometres from Damascus, went missing. The fate of the Jesuit priest, originally from Rome (Italy) remains a mystery.

“Every now and then a few rumours are heard,” said Card Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, speaking to AsiaNews. “In recent years everything has been tried but, inevitably, everything has been covered up. Nothing has been left out; there is nothing to let us to say any concrete about his fate, whether he is alive or dead.”

On too many occasions, stories about him have surfaced, but none has ever proved credible. The last reliable information leads to Raqqa, the former stronghold of the "Caliphate" in Syria.

A compelling figure in Islamic-Christian interfaith dialogue, Fr Dall'Oglio went missing over night between 28 and 29 July 2013 after he went to the headquarters of the Islamic State (IS) in Raqqa, one of the group’s strongholds. He wanted to defend dialogue and exchange, as well as ask for the release of several hostages held by the jihadi group.

Ever since that night, reports of his death and sightings have multiplied without much evidence, interspersed with long periods of silence. In the past, some media have reported that he was still alive, but with nothing concrete to go on.

So far, the most credible information comes from a former IS member, according to whom Fr Dall'Oglio was tortured and killed a few days after he was detained. Other sources have confirmed this version of events, but even in this case there is no material evidence.

"According to United Nations figures, about 100,000 people have gone missing in Syria without leaving a trace,” said Card Zenari. “The UN special envoy Geir Pedersen, like his predecessor Staffan de Mistura, addressed the Security Council on several occasions, stressing that this humanitarian question must be supported and reliable answers must be provided.”

For the prelate "the parties responsible" for the abductions must "make show some good will" and provide credible information.

Prisoners, the missing "must be freed or the families must be informed. I repeat, there are almost 100,000 missing and each family has the right to know what happened to their loved one. This applies to Fr Dall'Oglio, as well as to the two Orthodox metropolitans and the other two young priests. Unfortunately, we have nothing so far.”

Last year, the US Department of Justice offered a reward of up to five million dollars for anyone who could provide useful information on missing clerics: Fr Maher Mahfouz, a Greek Orthodox priest; Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Gregorios Ibrahim; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi; and Michael Kayyal, an Armenian Catholic priest. However, nothing new has emerged and their fate remains shrouded in mystery.

Kidnapping victims "should not be freed one at a time; if a group no longer has them, it should say what happened".

As for the reasons behind abductions, the cardinal thinks that it was to "get exchange material for other prisoners. These people were taken to play this card, whether religious dignitaries, Christians, or high-ranking military officers. In all probability, Fr. Paolo was a card to play” in Syria’s complicated power game.

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