04/30/2016, 10.41
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Pastor of Aleppo: "My city is a ghost town. Our Lady, bring us peace!"

Father Ibrahim Alsabag speaks to AsiaNews of closed schools and shops, people barricaded in their homes even if they are not safe. Jihadist groups behind wave of violence, which has dragged in other rebel groups. Syria and Aleppo dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that She may bring peace. The war has strengthened unity between Christians and created greater solidarity with Muslims.


Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The people of Aleppo "are in shock, the schools are closed, children stay at home, shops have lowered their shutters…the streets "have been emptied of cars and people".  Everyone, “avoids having to go out, although this does not mean that homes are safer, because the bombs can strike anywhere".

A ghost town, battered by war and violence, is what 44 year old Franciscan Fr. Alsabagh Ibrahim describes to AsiaNews.  He is the guardian and parish priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo. On the eve of the month of May, he speaks of how the local Church “has decided to dedicate Syria, but especially Aleppo to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace, that she may gift peace to all of us."

Over the past week fighting in northern Syria, in the province and in the city of Aleppo, the second most important of the country has dramatically intensified. The area is divided into two sectors, the west under government control and the eastern part in the hands of the rebels. This violence is considerably jeopardizing the fragile ceasefire in force since 27 February, which allowed an improvement of the humanitarian situation and had given hope for a cessation – even if only short term - of hostilities.

The government has announced a partial truce, the so-called "regime of calm, reached thanks to the mediation of Russia and the United States.  It will cover some areas of Syria. It will be in force for 24 hours in Damascus and in the Ghouta region, east of the capital, and for 72 hours in the province of Latakia in the north. However it will not cover the province of Aleppo, where battles have been raging over the past eight days, causing over 230 deaths.

Yesterday some missiles launched from the rebel-held districts of Aleppo have hit a group of faithful who had just left a mosque (located in the area under government control) at the end of Friday prayers, killing 15 worshipers. The attack on Malla Khan also caused several injuries, some of them serious. The government response was immediate, with air strikes targeting areas controlled by rebels causing 11 victims.

The spiral of violence and terror in Syria seems endless.  The nation has been torn by conflict since March 2011, causing at least 270 thousand deaths and millions of displaced, giving rise to an unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

Aleppo, where jihadists of the Islamic State militants and al Nusra Front (affiliated with al Qaeda) are fighting against rebel groups and government soldiers, is one of the most affected areas. It is a street by street battle, which ends up impacting on mostly civilians.

According to the pastor of Aleppo "it is becoming increasingly risky” because the jihadi groups "have launched heavy attacks, dragging in the other rebel groups." These extremist movements " from the very beginning have not respected and still do not respect the truce and have repeatedly attacked civilians", triggering further violence.

Hence the decision of Russia and the government military to launch an "offensive" against these Jihadist groups, who have to be forcibly repelled "because with them you can not dialogue." With the rebel militias, he adds, "it is different because they have accepted the truce and there is a dialogue with them".

Commenting on the recent targeting of hospitals, and in particular the devastation to the structure of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which killed doctors and even children, Fr. Ibrahim says that "who actually carried out the bombing remains a mystery”. He appeals to people to "be cautious and fair" in attributing responsibility and accusing "one side or the other", because there is a strong "risk of exploitation", although "it is clear that the damage is enormous."

The real figure is "human suffering" in Aleppo, he adds, a city "without water, without electricity, where there is no work and where bombs fall everywhere. It is inhuman". The ordinary people are trying to survive through charity, solidarity, communion, helping one another and living with the hope that this nightmare will pass soon".

In this climate of war and suffering, the Church seeks to "stem the emergency, providing food boxes, meeting people, listening to their stories of suffering, giving them words of hope and comfort”.  If their houses are destroyed by bombs, he adds, "we try to find new accommodation, we suffer with them, we too are under fire".

However, says Fr. Ibrahim, "the best thing is our presence here, people expect the Church to stay here with them ... our gesture, our most beautiful work of mercy in this Jubilee Year is to remain in the midst of our people."

Finally, the parish priest of Aleppo asks Christians worldwide to pray for peace in this month of May, accepting with enthusiasm the proposal of the Maronite Bishop Msgr. Joseph Tobji who wants to dedicate "Syria and, in particular, Aleppo to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace." The drama of the war, concludes the priest, has "brought about a first miracle strengthening unity among Christians and solidarity and closeness with the Muslims, the war and suffering have brought us closer". (DS)

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