For the bishop of Aleppo, the destruction in Palmyra is a warning from the Islamic State to the West
Militants blew up the monumental arch dating back to the Roman era. For Mgr Audo, this is a show of force against the United States and Europe. The West is deaf to the suffering population. The situation is getting worse. Peace and a political solution are needed.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - Mgr Antoine Audo, Chaldean Archbishop of Aleppo, spoke to AsiaNews about the destruction by the Islamic State (IS) group of the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, which dates back to Roman time, some 2,000 years ago.

For the prelate, this is not “a domestic message, for Syria, but a warning to the international community, especially the United States and Europe, who care a lot about archaeological assets”.

"These acts,” he added, 2are meant to show the world their strength, violence, domination of the Arab and Muslim world. They are an act of great media propaganda."

The Arch of Triumph was pulverised, this according to Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim, who confirmed earlier news reports. If IS remains in control of Palmyra, "the city is doomed,” he said.

For UNESCO’s director general Irina Bokova, the destruction constitutes a "war crime" and called on the international community to stand united against IS efforts to "deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history".

The latest destruction is not an isolated act. In late August IS posted five pictures online, showing its members placing explosives around the Baal Shamin temple, and adjacent walls, which they consider pagan.

IS, which had already seized large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory, took the city of Palmyra from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad last May.

In addition to destroying archaeological sites, IS in mid-August publicly decapitated the site’s director, Khaled al-Assad, who had refused to disclose where he had removed most artefacts before the arrival of IS fighters.

The latest salvo in IS's propaganda war came just days after Russia launched air strikes against the extremists and other opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, the West has accused Moscow of mainly targeting moderate opponents of the regime whilst neighbouring Turkey has branded the Russian bombing campaign "unacceptable".

Ankara said it had intercepted a Russian warplane on Saturday in its airspace, and summoned the Russian ambassador in protest.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Chaldean Archbishop of Aleppo said that the country’s tragic situation is getting worse. "People have become destitute; many are sick. There is no money to buy food; everything is expensive."

Meanwhile, militants continue to "issue their messages, to show that they are powerful and have the means to instil fear. And the West,” he warns, “is in danger against these extremist groups."

The escalation of violence and terror complicates even more the already fragile situation of the Christian community, whose exodus seems to be never-ending.

"The Church is working to maintain the Christian presence in the Middle East, especially in Syria, alive and well. It is a sign of pluralism and dignity,” said the prelate. “However, it seems that the West is not paying attention.

For the prelate, “the disappearance of Christians would be a loss not only for the Eastern Churches, but also for Islam itself. Without their presence, there would be room only for sheer violence whereby one side can continue to destroy.”

The Syrian Church, Mgr Audo said, is trying as much as possible "to give a future to families and young people by providing education, food, health care and psychological support. However, without peace and a political solution, war and violence are bound to continue."

More than 240,000 people have died since March 2011, when anti-government unrest turned into an open revolt against the Assad regime.

According to UN figures, some 10 million have become displaced since then. At least 4 million people found refuge in neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – with 150,000 seeking asylum in the European Union. Another 6.5 million are internally displaced. (DS)

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