LORD CAREY, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has joined with
the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Dr Mustafa Ceric, and the
director-general of the World Dialogue Council, Canon Alistair
Macdonald-Radcliff, to call on "responsible religious leaders" to
play a bigger part in seeking an end to the fighting in Syria.
In an article published in the Financial Times on
Tuesday, the three signatories said that there was still time to
learn from the mistakes committed in the Bosnian conflict.
The article pointed to the fact that Syria contained "multiple
religious groupings and minorities, many of whom live in growing
fear for their lives. Extremists are using these fears to fan the
flames of conflict." The three authors expressed astonishment that
none of the international initiatives on Syria had "made provision
for authentic religious leaders to participate, and seek support
for the crucial moderating role they could play".
Lord Carey and his two co-authors called on the UN
secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi
Annan, with other leaders and agencies, "to help convene the
religious leaders of Syria and the region to address how the
authentic voices of moderation can best be amplified to mitigate
the strife". Every avenue should be explored "before the conflict
becomes not only a national disaster but a regional catastrophe of
enormous human cost".
The death toll in Syria is rising steadily, and the centre of
the capital, Damascus - the bastion of the Bashar al-Assad
government - is among the latest battle zones.
This morning Syrian state television reported that the national
security minister, Hisham Ikhtiar, has died from injuries
sustained in a suicide bomb attack on the national security
offices, in Damascus, on Wednesday. He is the fourth regime insider
killed as a result of the attack. Assef Shawkat, the
president's brother-in-law and deputy chief of the army,
and the Defence Minister, Daoud Rajha, also died.
The outbreak of fighting in Damascus represents one of the most
serious challenges faced by the Syrian authorities thus far, coming
on the heels of a number of high-level defections from the ranks of
both the military and civilian élite. In the latter category,
Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, has fled to Qatar, and has
made accusations about his former masters, their alleged
involvement in the killing of civilians, and their readiness to use
chemical weapons if need be.
In a BBC interview, Mr Fares said that "Bashar al-Assad's regime
is like a cornered and wounded wolf. It will do anything to
But there is plenty that the regime can do. Despite setbacks,
the Assad leadership has vast arsenals of military equipment to
call on, plus thousands of troops who have so far been kept in
barracks. Syrian opposition groups acknowledge, too, that certain
sections of Syrian society - those with vested interests in the
status quo - still support the Assad government.
Among the latter group are at least some of the country's
Christian minority, who fear that the current system of rule might
be replaced by one based on fundamentalist Islam. Christians'
ambivalence about the outcome of the current conflict has put them
under psychological pressure, as well as in physical danger.
A rare truce between the rebels and Syrian government forces
last week, however, enabled 63 Christian residents of Homs to be
taken out to safety, after enduring months of hardship in crossfire
between the two parties to the conflict.
In the mean time, the group International Orthodox Christian
Charities is one of several that are organising aid supplies to
besieged communities in Homs and elsewhere. The programme executive
for special focus on the Middle East at the World Council of
Churches, Michel Nseir, told Ecumenical News International that
some Jesuit monks and Orthodox priests were still able to operate
in the old city of Homs.
The Damascus-based Church of Antioch is co-ordinating its aid
efforts through local churches, the Syrian Red Crescent, and other
Islamic organisations in the country. Christian groups are also
helping Syrians who have taken refuge in neighbouring states.
But the ultimate fate of Syrian Christians as a whole is as
uncertain as the future of the country itself - a country that
finds itself in the midst of a civil war in which both sides have
all to win and all to lose.