Nuncio to Damascus talks about Syrian conflict, UN optimism and the plight of an exhausted people
Mgr Zenari met with UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is "determined" to reach a truce. His goal is to create areas in which to "freeze" the fighting and improve aid delivery. President Assad appears flexible on the matter. People are exhausted and "those who can try to flee." Hope is emerging about a united front against jihadists.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The UN envoy is "determined" and "optimistic" about a possible agreement to secure a truce in the Syrian conflict, in an ever-evolving situation where exhaustion and a desire to flee are growing among the civilian population, said Mgr Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus.

Speaking to AsiaNews about his meeting with UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, he said that the latter referred to new opportunities to solve a crisis that has ravaged the country for the past three years.

For the Vatican diplomat, the goal is to end, or at least "freeze", certain areas that have already seen hundreds of thousands victims. For this to happen, setting actual goals is important, like "a cease-fire and the freezing of fighting in Aleppo," which is one of the most devastated cities.

Yesterday, the apostolic nuncio briefly met with the UN special envoy, who spoke to him about recent talks with Bashir al Assad. According to Mgr Zenari, de Mistura's optimism is a "good" sign. The fact that the UN representative sees "a window of opportunity for negotiations is also important," as he first noted during his initial meeting "with the highest authorities of government."

Speaking to the BBC, the UN special envoy stressed that the creation of a common front against the jihadist threat - the militias of the Islamic state - and exhaustion among the various combatants could lead to a lasting truce. The United Nations is therefore calling for the creation of "freeze zones" to halt the fighting and improve aid delivery.

In previous statements, Syrian President Assad had said that Syria was ready to consider a UN plan for a ceasefire in Aleppo, a city divided between rebel and army-held areas that has come to symbolise the war.

Since the start of the uprising against President Assad in 2011, the government has always branded all of its opponents as terrorists, whether they were peaceful protesters or armed groups, claiming that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey funded and supported them, thus fanning the flames of violence and terror across the region.

De Mistura's predecessors, UN special envoys Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan, repeatedly tried and failed to reach a cease-fire. Two rounds of talks between Damascus and the exiled opposition ended in a stalemate earlier this year.

In the meantime, the fighting in Syria has continued: more than 195,000 people have been killed so far, and about half of the population has been displaced, many seeking refuge abroad, especially in neighbouring Lebanon.

The situation in Syria "is constantly evolving" and "it is impossible to plan ahead. In fact, one must be open to anything," the apostolic nuncio said.

For Mgr Zenari, "after three and a half years of war," there are "some new opportunities" for peace, but "time will tell whether they will work. But it is worth trying anything."

The problem, according to the Vatican diplomat, is that "there must be a counterpart. . . . On the one hand, we have the Damascus government as a partner; on the other, there is no representative, no single spokesman or actual interlocutor". 

"Exhaustion has started to set in," the prelate said. "Various crises overlap: Syria's domestic crisis; the regional crisis that has taken centre stage; and international tensions among big powers; and lastly, the caliphate."

However, "one crisis can help solve the earlier one," he noted. "This might happen in Syria today in view of the growing threat posed by the militias of the Islamic state. There could be a reaction of common defence" leading to a joint effort against the Islamists.

"The civilian population has had enough," he added. "The situation is progressively getting worse, starting with the lack of jobs, broken factories, houses in ruins, lack of schools . . . . The old middle class is now in poverty and the poor are destitute."

Everyone, Christians and Muslims, is touched by the prospect of emigration, the nuncio said; however, this is more pronounced among Christians because they are minority and are increasingly dying out.

"Those who can try to escape, but everyone is suffering," noted the prelate who praised the work of the Church - priests, religious and nuns "still in the country."

"Through their commitment, they try to bring help to everyone, Christians and Muslims, without distinction." (DS)