02/04/2019, 11.29
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Fr. Ibrahim: Syria, a football at the feet of the international powers

by Dario Salvi

For the priest Christians are "always threatened with disappearing". They live "suspended between heaven and earth, hanging from the Cross". The city bears the signs of conflict: damaged collapsed buildings, people killed. A generation, or more, without education. Attempts at peace and reconciliation are rife.

Bergamo (AsiaNews) - Almost eight years since the beginning of the war, Aleppo "is a wounded city", which "must be rebuilt from scratch" and Syria "a football tossed between international powers", to “play games with".

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo, spoke with AsiaNews, about the northern metropolis which has been at the epicenter of the conflict since it broke out in March 2011. Born in Damascus in 1971, the religious has worked tirelessly for the victims of the war, Christian and Muslim. The conflict has caused almost half a million deaths and over seven million displaced persons. "As Christians - he adds - we are always threatened with disappearing. The community lives suspended between heaven and earth, hanging from the Cross".

We met Fr. Ibrahim on the evening of 2 February, on the sidelines of a conference promoted by the Sacramentan Fathers in Bergamo (in northern Italy). Here is what he told us:

Fr. Ibrahim, for years Aleppo was the epicenter of the Syrian conflict: Can you tell us about the situation today?

It is a wounded city, with broken wings. Its economy is destroyed and must be rebuilt almost from scratch. There is a widespread feeling of sadness and bitterness. When we are asked how things are, we usually reply that the war has just begun, because now the wounds are beginning to emerge in all their depth.

What wounds are you talking about?

The deepest wounds concern the human being, the heart and the soul of many children raised during the war which show evident psychological fragility. People with disabilities or paralyzed, others terrified of violence. If we think of children we have an entire generation, or perhaps more, who have been denied the right to study. Older people living in conditions of neglect, pensions are worth little or nothing. The money they receive today does not even cover 10% in terms of the need for medicines. And then the cost of living:  food has reached exorbitant prices and the local currency (Syrian lira) is always weaker than the dollar.

There had been recent glimmers of peace, then the situation precipitated. What happened?

Unfortunately the unexpected suffocation of a prospect of peace is all too evident. Three months ago, an agreement between Turks, Russians and Americans on Idlib [the last jihadist and rebel anti-Assad stronghold] seemed to be imminent. However, a few weeks later the regional and international powers blocked everything. Even with the Kurds we see a similar situation, with an attempt at reconciliation also supported by Damascus and then shipwrecked. Finally the south, with a possible agreement with Israel. Today this favorable international scenario has changed.

What happened?

These changes are the result of agreements made, overturned or canceled by the same countries that have conditioned the outcome of the conflict for years. They find an agreement, then they disavow it. One party withdraws, the other attacks, and we powerless spectators can only observe the results. Syria is a football being tossed at the feet of the international powers, who play at will.

What are your reflections of these intertwined world politics on people's lives?

Passing from a glimpse of peace to a new, dramatic escalation greatly changes prospects. This means that businesses will not restart, industries will remain stationary, people without jobs, shops will not profit. Many young people confess to me that for three months they have not managed to earn a minimum income from commercial activities, shops and workshops.

What is the situation of the Christian community?

As Christians we are always threatened with disappearing, in Syria as in the whole Middle East. The community lives suspended between heaven and earth, we are hung on the Cross, in suffering, in bitterness. Eight years ago we entered a tunnel that, even today, it does not seem to have an end. That said, although amid problems and suffering, as Christians we want to remain close to the human being who lives a condition of profound unease and suffering.

What projects has the Church started to respond to needs?

We continue to support initiatives launched for some time: from food parcels to health care for thousands of people. At the same time there are huge needs in the education sector, from elementary to university. We work for reconstruction, so far the Church has restored 1300 homes but it is only a small part. An essential task, considering that in the last two weeks two buildings have collapsed, causing the death of dozens of people, even children. Then there are infrastructural problems, such as electricity that is missing or has huge changes. In Damascus, a whole family was burned alive by the faulty current.

How do you see the future, for Christians and the country?

Difficult to say. No area can be said to be safe and free from the threat of war. Some Christian families continue to flee, we are still facing a hemorrhaging of the faithful. However, this picture should not be a source of despair and hopelessness. We do not want to stop those who leave, but offer an alternative to those who decide to stay or choose to return.

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