05/17/2016, 17.53
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Aleppo vicar backs petition to end sanctions against Syria and the Syrians

Mgr Abou Khazen calls on people to sign a petition hosted on the change.org platform to stop the sanctions because they harm poor people and have failed to stop the war. In Aleppo, people have burnt shoes to stay warm. World and regional powers are meeting in Vienna to discuss the conflict. Ending the fighting and handing out humanitarian aid remain the priorities.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – A petition launched on change.org, a social advocacy platform, calls for an end to sanctions against Syria because they "end up harming only the poor, and do not affect the powerful”. Above all they “do not end the war,” said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo for the Latins.

“I urge your readers,” the prelate told AsiaNews, “to sign” the petition. “I also hope to see Italy renew its humanitarian work” at a time “when the situation is calmer” in Aleppo “after weeks of intense fighting”.

In Italy, the ‘Comitato italiano Basta sanzioni alla Siria e ai Siriani’ (Italian Committee to stop sanctions against Syria and Syrians) launched an online petition. In June, the European Union will decide whether to renew sanctions imposed on Syria in 2011 that targeted the country’s ruling regime, but which ended up affecting mostly civilians.

Petition promoters stress that an oil embargo was lifted from areas controlled by the armed Jihadi opposition, providing "economic resources to the so-called revolutionary forces and the opposition." In short, the guerrillas get weapons, but civilians get no food or medicine.

The online petition follows a recent visit by Mgr Abou Khazen to Italy. The prelate lent his name to the petition along with Custos emeritus of the Holy Land Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo Mgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart and the Community of Trappist nuns in Syria. Other Church and civil society leaders have joined in as well.

"In my meetings in Italy, I spoke of the effects of sanctions at the humanitarian level,” the vicar apostolic said. “They are impediments that do not help the people and exacerbate the effects of the conflict." For example, Syrians abroad “cannot send money to their relatives at home.” Likewise, “university students had to interrupt their studies because they could no longer receive money from the government or their families.” All this is due to the sanctions.

In view of this, “I call on your readers to sign the petition,” the prelate said. What is more, sanctions do not work “as US President Barack Obama noted with respect to Cuba. If this is the case, why make the same mistake” in Syria?

In the war-torn country, people "lack everything, from diesel fuel to medicines. This winter some Aleppo families were forced to burn their shoes to keep warm because they could not buy fuel as a result of the sanctions."

In the meantime, regional and world powers are meeting today in Vienna, Austria, in an attempt to save Syria’s fragile truce, after five years of war, 280,000 deaths and millions of refugees.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at loggerheads over much else in the world, are chairing the meeting.

At the gathering, the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which includes China, Iran, Turkey, Arab League, United Nations and European Union, is expected to come up with a plan to end the crisis. A countrywide ceasefire and humanitarian aid to besieged areas top the agenda.

Still, the third plank of the plan – a call for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the rebels to agree on a "framework for political transition" – remains elusive.

For now, the immediate goal is to secure the fragile ceasefire in place since 27 February in Aleppo. Despite many violations, and an outbreaks of fighting, it is still holding.

Anonymous diplomatic sources in Damascus told AsiaNews that they look at the Vienna talks with some hope. The “recent breakdown of the ceasefire in Aleppo showed how bad things are”.

The intervention by Russia and the United States “de-escalated the violence,” but “did nothing more”. However, although “a political solution remains a priority,” stopping the “fighting and getting aid in are the priorities.”

Aleppo and other places have held media attention in recent weeks, “but it is the overall picture of the country that counts”. Things are awful across Syria. (DS)

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