Aleppo pastor says rocket hit Syrian Catholic bishop residence, expresses fears for truce (photos)

Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh talks to AsiaNews about “isolated incidents of violence" that "distress" the civilian population. Such sudden events fuel a climate of "instability and insecurity." A lasting truce" is needed to allow food and aid distribution. The situation in east Aleppo. Christians pray for the city’s salvation.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – This morning, "we were awakened by a rocket that fell near here;" it "hit the Syrian Catholic bishop's residence" in Azizieh, west Aleppo. The building, along with the Cathedral of Our Lady, has "been targeted by rockets and mortar fire for a while" from rebel-held area, said Fr Alsabagh Ibrahim.

Speaking to AsiaNews, northern Syria’s main city and current main battleground in Syria’s civil war, the 44-year-old Franciscan parish priest at St Francis Latin Church in Aleppo, said that despite three days of truce, "isolated incidents of violence" in both Aleppo and Damascus continue, and this is distressing the civilian population already exhausted by the conflict.

The rocket hit the roof of the bishop's house, the clergyman said, and ended up in an empty guest room. "Neither the bishop nor his vicar were present at the time, and “this prevented casualties or injuries. The damages to the building remain."

"Since the beginning of the truce, a relative palpable calm prevails. However, missiles and rockets against homes and churches have broken this apparent normality,” the Franciscan explained. “They are sudden and maintain a climate of instability and insecurity.”

The ceasefire that began with the Islamic festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) is the latest in a series of diplomatic efforts by Washington and Moscow.

The goal is to contain a five-year conflict that has caused, according to the latest estimates, more than 300,000 deaths (430,000 according to other sources) and millions of refugees, an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe with more than 4.8 million refugees abroad, and 6.5 million internally displaced people.

Aleppo remains the hotspot with at least 250,000 people trapped in the eastern sector. Local sources said the people are in desperate need of fuel, flour, wheat, milk powder and medicines.

Since 13 September, two convoys carrying aid have been waiting at about 40 km west of Aleppo. They are being held up because, among other things, the road leading to the city is controlled by militias affiliated with al Qaeda.

The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura confirmed that the ceasefire in the country is holding in spite of some "isolated violations." For him, “It is particularly regrettable because […] we are losing time”.

For Fr Ibrahim, the real goal is to ensure long-term stability and a truce that is truly "sustainable" and not limited to a short period of time. The civilian population is still suffering and “continues to pay the price of war."

In many areas of the city, there is no water, and power is on and off in several areas. Finding work is hard, and food and medicine are hard to get. "We need specialised doctors for specific diseases," he added.

School is going to reopen soon and "parents have to wreck their brain to decide whether to send their children to class or not.”

“No one knows what will happen after the truce. Many fear that violence could break out again, above all those with small children, because the minimal conditions for a normal life do not exist. Many families are still thinking about leaving the city for good, to escape any time and leave everything behind. Meanwhile, principals and teachers in Catholic schools are preparing for the new year, despite the hardships and obstacles."

East Aleppo residents also face difficulties and problems. Speaking to AFP, a male nurse, Rachid (not his real name) described the situation as “catastrophic” without food and medicine. “There is little hope for quick aid delivery.”

Still, "It's nice to see children play outside,” taking advantage of the truce, “but with regard to aid, we are still waiting,” said Yasser Hemeish, of the Aleppo City Medical Council.

The suffering of the civilian population has united the residents of east (about 250,000), and west Aleppo (almost 1.2 million), Fr Ibrahim said.

“Human dignity must be defended and safeguarded in this context of war. We pray for everyone, for a shared peace. With this intention, we celebrated in the last days the mystery of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows and, tomorrow, we shall celebrate the stigmata of St. Francis." (DS)