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Lebanon churches offer aid to refugees

08 March 2012

by Ed Thornton

CHURCHES in Lebanon have come to the aid of some of the 2000 refugees who have crossed the border from Syria, fleeing violence in their home country.

The director of Pontifical Mission Societies, Fr Paul Karam, told the news agency Fides on Tuesday that churches in Lebanon had been offering “hospitality and care” to refugees. “The danger that looms is a scenario like Iraq, where Christians are forced to flee the country. The risk is that a dictatorial regime could be replaced with an Islamist type which imposes sharia law.”

The Patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Beshara Rai, told Reuters on Monday: “Syria, like other countries, needs reforms, which the people are demanding. It’s true that the Syrian Ba’ath regime is an extreme and dictatorial regime, but there are many others like it in the Arab world.

“All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion, except for Syria. It stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state. . . We are not defend­ing it. But we regret that Syria, which wants to take a step forward . . . is under­going this violence and destruc­tion and [use of] power and weapons.”

Writing in the Church Times today, the Revd Stephen Griffith, who was Anglican Chaplain in Syria from 1997 to 2002, says that religious minorities in Syria appreciate its “non-sectarian nature”, and support President Assad’s government because they “fear what a change in regime will bring”.

The leaders of the “ancient Chris­tian communities” in Syria, which include the Antiochian Ortho­dox Church and the Armenians, “have the long-term protection of their com­munities to consider”, and “fear that extreme Muslims are planning a Syria cleared of other faiths and the freedom to think”.

On Wednesday, Baroness Amos, head of the UN’s Office of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, arrived in Damascus, before heading to Homs. Lady Amos said that the purpose of her visit was “to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies”.

President Obama said on Tuesday that the situation in Syria was “heartbreaking and outrageous”. Speaking of President Assad, he said: “Ultimately, this dictator will fall.”

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