For vicar of Aleppo, the US raid against the Syrian army was not a mistake

People are hoping for a ceasefire extension, but there is a widespread scepticism. For Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, the US attack on Saturday "threatens the fragile truce." During the current hiatus of peace, the Christian community has filled the churches for two celebrations dedicated to Mother Teresa. Meanwhile, the missionaries continue their work in Aleppo.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The Syrian population still hopes that "the ceasefire can continue", although there is not "great confidence", in particular "after the American attack against the Syrian army in Deir el-Zor,” said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, vicar apostolic of Aleppo of the Latins.

Speaking to AsiaNews the; the prelate is certain that the US air attack last Saturday that struck Syrian soldiers involved in the offensive against the Islamic State (IS) "is not an error," but part "of a predetermined goal."

The US is present in the Deir el-Zor "with military bases and forces on the ground". Analysing "the facts," Mgr Abou Khazen noted, shows that the US attack "seemed air cover for jihadists". In fact, Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State) "fought back" exploiting the US bombing "as if there was an agreement, an understanding" between Washington and jihadists.”

The US administration said the operation was an error that caused "an unintended loss of life". In the aftermath of the attack Washington and Moscow exchanged accusations on the sidelines of the UN Security Council in New York.

A spokesman for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also does not believe the accident version and his Russian ally raised serious doubts. What is certain is that air strike weakened Syrian forces besieging an Islamic State stronghold - along with Raqqa.

Some analysts and experts believe Washington's goal is to keep a Jihadi presence in Syria, to facilitate the imminent offensive against the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, by holding back the Syrian-Russian-Iranian axis as well as the recent military gains by the regular Syrian army.

The possibility of extending the ceasefire in force since 12 September, which is due to end at 7 pm local time, seems increasingly remote. The ceasefire, which started 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 end a five-year conflict that has caused an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe: more than 300,000 deaths according to recent estimates, (430,000 according to other sources) and millions of refugees – more than 4.8 million forced abroad and 6.5 million displaced at home.

Aleppo remains the main hub of tension. In northern Syria’s metropolis, some 250,000 people are still holed up in the eastern sector.

People have experienced this week’s truce "with hope" and were more "relaxed", the vicar of Aleppo noted. Still, scepticism remains widespread about any real intention to silence guns.

"In the last few days, there was only sporadic fighting overnight,” he said, “and the ceasefire generally held and we hope it will continue. The fear is that this time, as in the past, the truce could be followed by an even more intense conflict."

Still, Catholics took advantage of the relative calm to participate in two solemn celebrations of thanksgiving for the canonisation of Mother Teresa.

"We celebrated a Mass yesterday,” the vicar said. “St Francis Parish Church was packed. The same thing happened last week, at the first Mass in the cathedral." At the end of the service, the Catholic community "offered a lunch for the poor."

In Aleppo there are five Missionaries of Charity who run a nursing home with 52 residents, said Mgr Abou Khazen, "all Christians, but the sisters also take care of other, non-resident seniors, Christians and Muslims, without making distinctions based on religion."

Aleppo is a city that is "suffering" in both the western, government-held sector as well as in the eastern rebel-held sector. However, the local church wants to continue to be a sign of hope.

"For this reason, later this month we are planning a great meeting on the family, a day of celebration and reflection,” the prelate said, “in order to understand what it means to be family in a time of war and suffering."