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Churches urge Russia to back UN on Syria

22 March 2012

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

Ruins: the scene after a car bomb in the second city of Syria, Aleppo, on Sunday REUTERS

Ruins: the scene after a car bomb in the second city of Syria, Aleppo, on Sunday REUTERS

CHURCH organisations were among two hundred NGOs from 27 countries last week which called on Russia to back action by the UN Security Council to end the crisis in Syria. The call came on the eve of a new round of car bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and against the background of continuing clashes in many parts of the country.

The Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council and Christian Aid were among the bodies that urged Russia to do more to end the violence in Syria. The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church also added their voices to the growing call for the UN Security Council to demonstrate a united opposition to the violent actions of the Syrian regime.

A statement from the leaders of the three Churches said: “We are dismayed by the Syrian Government’s violent and unrestrained attacks on its own citizens, resulting in thousands of deaths, and significant numbers of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries. Such action cannot possibly be justified.”

As the Syrian government’s forces continued to bombard pockets of resistance in several towns, the country’s two main cities were shaken by car bombings. Last Sunday, two people were killed and more than 30 wounded when a car exploded in a residential area close to the centre of Aleppo, near a security office and a church.

On the previous day, 27 people were killed, and more than 100 wounded, in two bombings in the capital, Damascus. The Syrian government has blamed al-Qaeda terrorists, saying that they had infiltrated the country for the bombings.

Opposition groups, by contrast, accuse the government of arranging the explosions to discredit those supporting the uprising by suggesting that they are being led by foreign-backed extremists. Whatever the truth, one of the few indisputable facts is that neither the Syrian authorities nor any government or international body outside the country seems able to find a way of bring the killings to an end.

While pressure is mounting on Russia to step into line with other members of the UN Security Council, there is no certainty that a unanimous call from world bodies would be sufficient to end the crisis. For the government in Damascus is fighting now not only for its own survival, but also for the continued ascendancy of the minority Alawite community from which it is drawn. Increasingly — from the Alawites’ perspective — the conflict looks like a fight to the death.

Russia appears increasingly concerned about the worsening crisis in Syria, even if it still unwilling to drop its support for President Bashar al-Assad. On Monday, Russia backed a call from the International Committee of the Red Cross for both sides in the conflict to agree “without delay to daily humanitarian pauses” to allow humanitarian aid to be transported to those in need, and for the wounded to receive treatment.

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