For Aleppo archbishop, US show of force leaves a martyred people unconcerned

For Mgr Audo, the airstrikes were a great media event but had little impact on the country. The ongoing power game on the backs of the Syrian people is a sad chapter. White House counters Macron’s claim about getting the US to stay, announces new sanctions against Russia. Syrian Church leaders slam the attacks, which they say violates international law.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The military operation carried out by the United States, France and the United Kingdom against Syria over the weekend to punish the Syrian army for its alleged use of chemical weapons had "a major media impact internationally,” said Mgr Antoine Audo, president of Caritas Syria and Chaldean archbishop of Aleppo.

For public opinion and the media, it was a "tragic event", but for civilians "life goes on, as always, without a sense that things might be at a turning point.”

For the prelate, the attacks were a “show of force”” by the West. "Of course, the attacks were a serious thing but for ordinary people, life goes as if nothing happened. Yet, there is a sense of sadness that peace is slipping away. It is also sad to realise that talking to people after Sunday mass, the war is now part of everyday life."

"The operation was not so bad,” he explained. “Clearly, it was a show of force, another chapter in the proxy war between powers."

Syria is "a country martyred because of international interests, the struggle for power between the Russians and the Americans, between Sunnis and Shias, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is about economic and strategic interests to which arms trafficking must be added."

For the archbishop, "Syria has its own proud history, with a government and a people and they are doing everything to destroy it. And the poor are the ones who pay the highest price for this conflict."

For its part, Moscow continued to slam Western air strikes. Conversely, French President Emmanuel Macron said they had been “perfectly carried out”

The French leader noted that the operation was not a declaration of war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, but a response to the use of chemical weapons, which is banned by UN resolutions.

Macron added, “Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria’. We convinced him it was necessary to stay. We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term.”

White House responded a few hours later to Macron’s claim by saying, “The US mission has not changed – the president has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible. We are determined to completely crush Isis and create the conditions that will prevent its return.”

The United States is also planning more economic sanctions against Russia. “They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use," US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.

Meanwhile, a fact-finding team from Netherlands-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria on Saturday to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma amid growing tensions between the West and Russia (and Iran, allies of the Syrian government).

After seven years of fighting (in which 95 per cent of civilian casualties died from conventional, not chemical weapons), the Syrian regime now controls more than half of the country’s territory. The opposition is left instead with 12 per cent, including areas controlled by Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham (formerly known as the al Nusra Front), once al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.

After securing Eastern Ghouta, government forces are now moving towards Daraa, in the south, where the anti-regime uprising started before morphing into a civil war, and towards Idlib in the north.

At the diplomatic level, with the UN in Geneva and Turkey, Iran and Russia in Astana still unable to find ways to secure a peaceful solution, Syria’s top Christian clerics have renewed their call for an end to the fighting.

The Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Churches condemned Saturday’s air strikes as pre-emptive and unjust, noting that there was not “sufficient and clear evidence” for the suspected use of chemical weapons, and that the Western operation would only favour terrorists in the country.

In their appeal to the United Nations and the Security Council, which Apostolic Nuncio Card Mario Zenari harshly criticised, the patriarchs called for action to bring peace and end the escalation of violence. (DS)