05/04/2016, 13.38
SYRIA
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Pastor of Aleppo: Missiles on hospitals, schools and mosques. Call for Masses for peace worldwide

The leaders of the Catholic communities of Aleppo launch an appeal: Masses and prayers around the world on Sunday for an end to violence in the city. Yesterday 17 children died when a hospital in the government sector was hit. The university also targeted with students hiding for hours in the basements to escape the bombs. Father Ibrahim: The situation is dramatic we need compassion and mercy.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The leaders of the Catholic communities of Aleppo have launched an appeal to the bishops, priests and faithful around the world, asking them to "offer Masses next Sunday, May 8, for peace in Syria and especially to Aleppo ".

This is what 44 year old Franciscan Fr. Alsabagh Ibrahim, pastor and parish priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo tells AsiaNews.  The "Northern Capital" of Syria has been brought to its knees by days of heavy fighting. "We ask for prayers from around the world - said the priest - because the situation is dramatic; many innocent people are being subjected to this violence, we need compassion and mercy. "

"In our area [Christian neighborhoods west of Aleppo, under government control] this morning there is a silence, few people on the streets and no noise," said Father. Ibrahim, "but fighting continues in other areas". Yesterday, meanwhile, the city registered its "worst day" yet in the escalation of the conflict, "which continued through the night, with violence and attacks that did not stop even for a minute".

"Yesterday we experienced the worst day of the week, with heavy bombardment" continued the pastor of Aleppo. Missiles and rockets fired from the area under rebel control targeted the hospital in Dabbi't (pictured, before and after), hitting the obstetrics department and killing 17 children as well as women and men. They had previously launched missiles on universities, in particular the state "universities forcing thousands of students to take shelter for hours in the basements to escape the violence. Hence the decision of the Ministry of Education to close all the schools in the city for three days".

"On the road leading to the university" continued the priest, " a building was completely destroyed and razed to the ground and we still don’t know the number of victims or injured. This not to mention the sporadic or intense shelling in other areas". Other buildings targeted include the Aisha mosque in the Zahraa district, explains the priest, "which was considered a haven for Muslim families who had fled from other areas, seeking refuge”.

Since March 2011, Syria has been torn apart by a conflict that has claimed at least 270 thousand lives and left millions of people displaced, giving rise to unprecedented humanitarian emergency. Among the most affected areas the city of Aleppo, where jihadists of the Islamic State militants and al Nusra Front (affiliated with al Qaeda) are fighting against rebel groups and government troops; in less than two weeks there have already been more than 270 civilian deaths. A new round of peace talks on Syria under the auspices of the United Nations should begin next May 10, in Geneva, but so far international diplomacy has proved powerless or uninterested in stopping the conflict.

The fighting is concentrated around the city of Aleppo, the second most important in the country; the area is divided into two sectors, the west under government control and the eastern part in the hands of the rebels. However, on the outskirts of the city, the situation is the opposite with rebel groups that have nearly surrounded the west and the government forces besieging the eastern rebel-held area. The continuing outbreaks of violence have put the fragile ceasefire in force since February 27 last at serious risk.  So far it has allowed an improvement of the humanitarian situation and given hope for a cessation – even just short term - of hostilities.

Pope Francis is also concerned about the escalation of the fighting and the inertia of the international community .  On Sunday, May 1 at the end of Regina Coeli, he renewed his appeal for peace in the country. The Pope urged "all parties to the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities and to strengthen the ongoing dialogue, the only path that leads to peace." Bergoglio's words are echoed by the declaration of the Catholic bishops of Aleppo, who in a joint statement denounced "the violence that our beloved city suffers", and entrusted their home and their people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to bring peace.

"The way we are being forced to live - says the parish priest of Aleppo - is a real crime against humanity, because targeting children, infants, women in childbirth, college students ...  call it revenge or terrorism, are truly horrific acts. We ask for compassion and mercy for these innocent victims".  Aleppo, is not just west or east, concludes the priest, "we must all be close to all those who suffer, for those who have experienced violence ... for infants, the elderly, the desperate. As a Church we are close not only to Christians, but to anyone who has been struck in his dignity by this violence. This is why I renew my appeal to all of you for your prayers and thank you for the solidarity, your closeness to us, your good will. " (DS)

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