10/25/2023, 19.00
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Card Sako warns the war between Israel and Hamas risks turning into a 'regional conflict'

by Dario Salvi

The cardinal is "worried" about the escalation in Gaza, and the danger that it might inflame the entire Middle East. Religion is used to fuel a “political conflict”. In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader met with two senior officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In Gaza, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has seen its capacity to meet needs outstripped by demand.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which is already spreading to the whole of Palestine with rising death among civilians, is a source of "great concern and tension,” especially because "it is not known, at present, what direction the conflict may take,” said Card Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, who is in Rome for the Synod, which is in its final phase.

This new war, the cardinal warns, may not be limited "to Israel and Palestine"; there is a "real risk" that it could "extend to the entire region", ending up "perhaps as a trap for all of us. Personally, I am very worried".

For the Chaldean primate, it is necessary to multiply efforts "to change this mindset of war, revenge, violence" that has too often inflamed the Middle East in recent decades.

This goes “from the Palestinian issue, which has never been resolved and has long been set aside, if not forgotten, and the tensions between Sunnis and Shias evident in Saudi-Iranian confrontation, to the many proxy wars have taken place in the region, like the one in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels.

For the prelate, "We need to know how to talk to each other, we need to give room again to dialogue.” To this end, “it is necessary to think how to achieve peace, find a solution to problems in a civilised way, silencing the” often deafening “sound of arms.”

“As Pope Francis pointed out, in war, everyone loses and there is no victory," notes Card Sako, who has experienced first-hand many of the conflicts that have characterised Iraq's recent history, from the Iran-Iraq War (1908-1988) and the US invasion in 2003 to jihadi terrorism and the rise of the Islamic State (IS), down but not out at the end of a tough military campaign.

In Gaza, as in Iraq, sectarian factors overlap with political and territorial issues. "Religion can be used as an umbrella that cloaks the conflict, faith can be politicised or used to justify or fan the flames of war" like in the Arab world "between different ethnic groups or Sunnis and Shias."

However, even in the confrontation between Israel and Hamas, "there is at the bottom a struggle between opposing interests, behind which the fire of politics burns. Religion is only a pretext, a cover" to continue fighting "and civilians are paying the price, even today,” the cardinal laments.

Recently Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reportedly met with Hamas Deputy Chairman Saleh Al-Arouri, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah in Lebanon, which highlights that country’s unwitting, yet growing military and political role in the conflict.

In Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei slammed the United States, accused of complicity with Israeli "atrocities" in Gaza.

In Israel the authorities have denied entry visas to UN diplomats in retaliation for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s recent statement criticising Israel’s actions in Gaza. At the same time, Israel’s military is expanding its operations in the West Bank.

Military sources say that since the start of the war, Israel has arrested 930 "wanted" people, including "600 members of Hamas" in the territories.

Lastly, the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has announced that its capacity to help over 600,000 displaced people in 150 facilities has reached its limit.

The humanitarian situation in the Holy Land is getting worse with many mosques and churches destroyed in the ongoing conflict. As Card Sako is urging, the international community has to find ways to negotiate a truce.

International action is needed to get food and medicines into Gaza through humanitarian corridors and prevent other countries in the region from being overwhelmed by an all-out war.

"We need to think a little further ahead, broaden our perspective," said the cardinal, who believes that the war between Russia and Ukraine is also a “proxy” war, like the one “between Israel and Hamas”.

“Large countries are also behind this war and, in some ways, this new front of tensions has relegated to the background" the war launched by Moscow against its neighbour, with a consequent "decrease in international pressure and attention and request for aid."

Ultimately, for the Chaldean primate, whatever conflict it may be, "war is always sad and absurd; we need dialogue and find a solution for everyone.”

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