For Nuncio to Damascus, using hunger and thirst as a weapon of war is an outrage
Mgr Zenari talks to AsiaNews about his indignation over the crimes committed against civilians. He wants the media to pay more attention. Lorries carrying food and medicine have been blocked just outside besieged towns and villages. He praises international groups and members of the Church operating in dangerous areas. The Islamic State frees another 16 Christian hostages in al-Hasakah.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, Mgr Mario Zenari, does not mince words about the serious crimes perpetrated for far too long across Syria. “Using hunger, and thirst, as a weapon of war is a crime, a shameful thing,” he said.

 “I am surprised that the international media is just talking about it now,” he told AsiaNews. “In some places, people have been dying of hunger for more than a year with lorries full of food, milk, and medicines, just waiting outside”.

This is the case of towns under siege like Madaya (where a second aid convoy arrived yesterday), Foah and Kefraya, or the refugee camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus. All this brings shame to the media and the international community.

“This situation must be solved by eliminating the root cause of the conflict,” he said. To do so, the world press must "pay more attention to the humanitarian question, a pressing issue that must be resolved today,” he added.

The bishop admits that there may be "difficulties," but "there are no excuses because there is food and medicines out there, as well as lorries, yet people are dying of hunger."

For Mgr Zenari, "A political solution to the Syrian conflict could be found tomorrow, or in a month”. Between now and then, “internationally recognised human rights must be guaranteed and respected. The humanitarian problem, the use of hunger – and thirst I would add – is a crime, a shameful thing, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also pointed out.”

Referring to Madaya, which recently became front-page news, the prelate said he was "astonished" that media just started covering the situation. For months, the United Nations had been sounding the alarm about what was going on in the town.

The same goes for Yarmouk, just seven kilometres from the capital, where the same shameful tragedy continues in what is tantamount to an open-air prison, a refugee camp where conditions have been desperate for quite some time.

"Two weeks ago, there was an attempt to evacuate the area, but it was unsuccessful,” Mgr Zenari lamented.

According to United Nations sources, up to 4.5 million people live in disputed areas that are difficult to reach for humanitarian agencies, including at least 400,000 in 15 places under siege.

"I admit that there may be difficulties but the instrumental use of hunger and thirst is inadmissible," the apostolic vicar said. In such a difficult environment, he "welcomes and encourages" the efforts of those "working to solve some risky situations."

The arrival of aid in Madaya, Foah, and Kefraya "are positive signs in humanitarian terms, even though it does touch the whole country.”

“We must acknowledge that various bodies, including the United Nations as well as the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society, have been working steadily and quietly to broker deals to ensure the arrival of aid." To this, we must add “the efforts of the Church and individual priests, nuns and religious whose presence provides an important reference point in humanitarian terms.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State (IS) group yesterday released a group of Assyrian Christian hostages captured by the group in Syria’s north-eastern province of al-Hasakah in February.

According to the Assyrian Network for Human Rights (ANHR), 16 people – eight children, three women and five men – were freed.

In Syria, Assyrian Christians number 30,000 or 2.5 per cent of the country’s 1.2 million Christians. Most of them lived in some 35 villages in Al-Hasakah where IS forces, government troops and other Islamist extremist groups have been fighting for some time.

"In the last few weeks, the international community has been trying to end the spiral of crises and violence in Syria,” Mgr Zenari said. “Let us hope that the will to do something leads to success.”