09/10/2012, 00.00
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For Caritas Lebanon president, the papal visit is a sign of hope for 100,000 Syrian refugees

Pontiff will visit the country between 14 and 16 September. Lebanese Christians will be witnesses of peace among Muslims divided by hatred between Alawis and Sunnis.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "The approach of Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon (14-16 September) has raised the spirits of Syrian refugees and Lebanese people," Fr Simon Faddoul told AsiaNews. "The Pope's presence at such tragic time is a sign of hope for thousands of refugees who are crossing the border but also for those who receive him." For the president of Caritas Lebanon, who has been involved in helping Syrian refugees pouring into the Beqaa Valley in the north, "knowing that the pontiff is praying for and suffering with us in this painful situation of war is encouraging Christians and the local Church to be a witness and bear Christ's message of peace among those who have lost everything and have no hope."

The number of people in refugee camps is not known. The figures released by international organisations are not reliable because they take into account only the people who register at border crossings. The latter are a minority. Officially, there are some 41,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. However, Caritas puts the number and more than 120,000.

"These people are in a heartbreaking situation," Fr Faddoul said. "Most of the refugees lost everything: home, family and work. Now their main problem is survival. They fear for their children's future, unable to go to school because of the war."

Experts note that the Syrian regime and the rebel Free Syrian Army are fighting a war of attrition that will likely last longer than thought.

"Many people have lost all hope of going home and fear they'll be refugees for the rest of their life," the priest said.

"The Lebanese Church and Caritas will be encouraged by Benedict XVI's visit, who is coming to Lebanon as a messenger of peace and reconciliation between Alawi and Sunni Muslims."

Yesterday, during the Angelus, the pope expresses his closeness to the peoples of the Middle East.

"I understand." He said, "the anguish of many Middle Eastern people immersed in daily sufferings of all kinds, which sadly, and at times mortally, plague their personal and family life. My concerned thoughts go out to those who, in search of a place of peace, leave their family and professional life, and experience the precariousness of being exiles. [. . .] we cannot resign ourselves to the violence and exasperation of tensions. A commitment to dialogue and reconciliation must be a priority for all parties involved, and must be supported by the international community, increasingly aware of the importance of a stable and lasting peace in the region for the whole world."

In Aleppo, meanwhile, the situation is getting worse. Syria's commercial capital saw a car bomb explode yesterday near the stadium. Some 17 people were killed and two hospitals and a school were largely destroyed.

The Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack, but accused the Syrian army of hiding weapons and ammunitions in the hospitals.

Syria's official news agency SANA showed pictures of other neighbourhoods flattened by the regime's air force, calling them acts of self-defence. To stop rebels from advancing, the air force struck for instance Midan, a neighbourhood already in control of government forces which still has large numbers of civilians.

According to the pro-rebel Syrian Human Rights Observatory, 135 people died over the week-end in fighting and attacks in various cities.

United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met representatives of various Arab countries and United Nations Security Council members to plan his upcoming trip to Damascus.

The Algerian diplomat is coming as peace efforts became bogged down following the failure of his predecessor, Kofi Annan.

Before quitting in August, the Nobel Prize laureate accused the international community of failing to take the necessary steps to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. (S.C.)

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