Vicar of Aleppo: Truce, for some relief to a population exhausted by bombings
For Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen the situation in the northern cities "is still though". People fear to go out onto the streets to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Improvement in electricity and water supplies. Church offers rare moments of leisure for a battered community with summer camps. Thanks to Pope Francis for his support and solidarity.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The situation in Aleppo "is still rough", with fighting and the ceaseless firing of rockets and mortars on civilian neighborhoods; people fear "to take to the street to celebrate the feast of Eid al-Fitr", which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer, says Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo of the Latins.
Speaking to AsiaNews he describes a reality marked by years of war and violence, a place that has become the epicenter of the Syrian conflict. However the bishop also speaks of some (small) improvements: "We now have electricity for two or three hours a day - he explains - and almost all districts have water, this is good news given the hot summer period".
Yesterday afternoon, in a surprise announcement, the Syrian army declared a unilateral cease-fire of 72 hours across the country, in conjunction with the celebrations for the end of Islam's holy month. It will remain in force, according to the military report, "until midnight on Friday, July 8".
Previously, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance outside the capital, participating in a prayer for the Eid al-Fitr held in Homs. This city has been one of the most bitterly fought over in the five-year conflict, which has so far caused over 250 thousand deaths and millions of displaced persons, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in history.
The announcement of the truce, says Mgr. Georges Abou Khazen, "is good news, we really hope it will last. It is an opportunity to give a little 'breathing space to the population, allow people to celebrate, although in Aleppo and surrounding areas the fighting and bombing of cities continue unabated. "
The so-called rebels, who control the eastern sector of the northern capital of Syria, "continue bombing civilian neighborhoods," the prelate said. They are "individual attacks", but frightening, and have continued "around the city" until late afternoon yesterday with "heavy fighting”. The rebel groups and extremist factions carrying out these attacks include the militia of al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in Syria); the jihadists of the Islamic State are still about 20km from the metropolis.
Meanwhile, the Muslim community in Aleppo is trying to celebrate the feast of Eid al-Fitr. "The poor people have waiting for feast - says the apostolic vicar - to buy clothes, food, cook the best dishes. However, the high cost of living, poverty, the danger of violence are constant and affect everyone, regardless of faith. " In this festival, he said, people usually "celebrate out in the street, in parks, but today it is not possible, because the risk of being hit is too high. People move as little as possible and try not to get caught up in the fighting".
In this context Christians "trying to carry out their activities" in the parish “in their groups, with families, children", says Msgr. Abou Khazen. The various initiatives include group trips - families, children, etc - to a town near Latakia, which has recently reopened, "to spend a few days off and unwind from the city violence." And again, "summer camps open to students with the Salesians," during which "we entertain the children, we give them a hot meal, help them play, study, have fun...".
The Vicariate of Aleppo has also set up a pool and some playing fields "for families, but especially for the little ones", which are the first to suffer the trauma of war and in many cases "have nowhere to go, and certainly cannot afford a "holiday.
The Vicariate’s youth will not be able to take part in World Youth Day, to be held later this month in Krakow, Poland. So the Church is organizing events “to celebrate in conjunction with the World Youth Day, again with the help of the Salesians. Our goal - said the vicar - is to help our young people feel as if they are taking part".
The Church leader concludes with special thanks addressed to Pope Francis, who has shown his closeness to Syria and its people in recent days. In a video message on the occasion of the campaign for peace in Syria promoted by Caritas Internationalis on the theme "Syria, peace is possible," the Pope pointed out that "everyone must recognize that there is no military solution", but only a political one.
"Francis - emphasizes the Vicar of Aleppo - cares about our condition and is aware of all that is happening. We hope the international community, the great powers, heed his message and find the will to make a change". In this context the bishop once again stresses what is the real root cause of the problem, the sale of weapons: "Stop selling them! Stop trafficking arms!- he pleads – they are nothing other than a means of destruction. Coexistence is possible, but only through peace and reconciliation. "(DS)