As the conflict escalates, the situation in Aleppo’s Christian quarter worsens, says apostolic vicar
For Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, the situation is getting progressively worse as the fighting intensifies. At least 12 Christians died recently but more bodies are still “under the rubble”. Prelate calls for a stop to the fighting. Meanwhile, the Church has set up shelters "for Christian and Muslim" war victims.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The situation in Aleppo has "worsened", and fighting is escalating in the city, Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, told AsiaNews. Civilians, Christians and Muslims, "are tired of war, tired of these terrible acts of violence;" however, “regional and international” powers and interests are fuelling the conflict by sending "heavier and more lethal weapons.”

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo is likely to be destroyed by the madness of a war that spares no homes, churches, schools or charitable organisations. The latest round of fighting left scores of Christians killed or wounded. Many others are still “trapped in the rubbles of the bombed out buildings,” the prelate said.

Two Christian men, Anwar and Misho Samaan, and their mother died in a rocket attack that hit their home last Friday, the local chapter of the Salesians Order reported.

Two days later, on Sunday, an air strike by government planes hit a school in a rebel-held neighbourhood, killing five children, three female teachers and a man. As a result of this, all 135 schools in rebel areas and local markets will be closed for the entire week.

Local witnesses report that people are "more afraid" than usual. Dozens of families have fled their homes for camps in Turkey; others have been displaced within the city of Aleppo itself.

As fighting has intensified, the Christian quarter has come under fire with many people killed and wounded. “Over night between Friday and Saturday, in the middle the Orthodox Easter, the Christian area was heavily shelled by heavy weapons, and rockets, which we never saw before, up to three metre long,” the vicar to Aleppo said.

For the prelate, this is "something new, with enormous destructive power".  Until now, "we had become used to gunfire and mortars.” Now, “five-storey buildings have been gutted, buildings razed to the ground. People are afraid to go out into the street and are trapped . . . [I have] never seen anything like it. "

Over the past few days, attacks have continued. "Last night, we lived terrible moments near the Bishop’s residence,” Mgr Abou Khazen said. Rebel “Militias and regular army fought each other. We do not know why they are now targeting civilians."

In fact, churches and schools have been hit recently. Schools were closed because of the Easter holiday, but "Now they have reopened but the danger of fresh attacks remains,” the prelate added. “Even educational facilities are potential targets.”

Catholic bishops have appealed to the international community to stop the conflict. However, the major powers (United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and France) are "fanning the flames of conflict and supplying heavy and more lethal weapons to the fighters".

"We wept when we saw the suffering in the eyes of the people, the scores of bodies under the rubble of collapsed houses,” Mgr Abou Khazen said.

“In the Christian quarter alone, we have already buried 12 people, including four from the same family. But there are still several bodies under the rubble, as well as people with serious injuries and we expect the toll to get worse in the coming hours."

"We are tired of war,” the prelate said. “Do not send more weapons!" For the prelate, there is a plan to “uproot Christians" from Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East.

“Bombs and missiles are not meant to tease, but to kill,” he explained, to wipe out the mosaic of people that lived together and shared the same feelings in what was Syria before the war, where Christians and Muslims "lived together without sectarian tensions".

In thanking Pope Francis for his appeals on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, the apostolic vicar said that in Aleppo, the Church continues its work on behalf of war victims, both Christians and Muslims, under increasingly difficult conditions.

"In the past, we handed out food and clothing. Now we are setting up shelters in the parishes for those who have fled their homes after they were hit by rockets,” he added.  “As always, our doors are open to Christians and Muslims.

“This is the beauty of Syria – dialogue and acceptance by people of different religions – that ideologically driven foreign fighters want to destroy."

Since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2011, more than 3.2 million people have fled the country whilst another 7.6 million have become internally displaced.

At least 200,000 people have been killed in the fighting, many of them civilians. Last year was the worse in terms of casualties.

In the spring of 2013, the Islamic State group emerged out of the cauldron of Syria's civil war, in all its violence and brutality. From that point, it advanced rapidly, seizing large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory. (DS)