THE NUMBER of Syrian refugees reached two million this week,
with 5000 people a day fleeing the country, as the West continued
to debate the possibility of military intervention.
According to the UN's refugee agency, one in ten of Syria's
pre-war population now lives outside its borders - a "disgraceful
humanitarian calamity, with suffering and displacement unparalleled
in recent history", a statement said.
Christian Aid has warned that any Western air-strike would
"increase dramatically" the number of refugees, with "catastrophic
effects on the already desperate humanitarian situation in
neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq".
On Saturday, the President of the United States, Barack Obama,
announced that he had decided to take military action against the
Syrian regime, but that he would seek congressional authorisation
for intervention. A vote is expected on Monday.
On Tuesday, President Obama said that this limited action would
fit "into a broader strategy that can bring about, over time, the
kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic,
economic and political pressure required - so that, ultimately, we
have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to
Syria but to the region."
The UN chemical-weapons inspection team left Syria on Saturday.
There is no deadline for the delivery of its report, and it will
not be determining who was responsible for any chemical-weapons
On Tuesday, the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said
that action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons must be
approved by the Security Council.
The US government's own chemical-weapons assessment, which was
published on Friday, asserted "with high confidence" that the
Syrian government was behind the attack in Gouta, Damascus, on 21
President Obama said: "I'm confident in the case our government
has made, without waiting for UN inspectors. I'm comfortable going
forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council
that, so far, has been completely paralysed, and unwilling to hold
On Tuesday, the Revd Jim Wallis, chief executive of Sojourners,
a US-based justice-and-peace network, told BBC Radio Five that the
priority for the West should be to "win the hearts and minds of the
Syrian people back" through humanitarian support, before launching
"an international campaign . . . to isolate Assad and surround him
with rejection, put him on trial." Russia and China must be
"pressed very hard on their support for this man". Military strikes
"often have unintended con-sequences, and they can bring more
people into the battle".
This week, UK government ministers said that there were no plans
to hold another parliamentary vote on military intervention in
Syria, after MPs rejected the Prime Minister's motion approving
such action under a UN mandate (
News, 30 August).
On Friday, the Syrian-born director of the Awareness Foundation
in London, the Revd Nadim Nassar, described the vote as "extremely
disturbing", because "no one in the whole British Parliament asked
Mr Cameron if he had tried an option other than military attack. .
. Although the vote was as I wanted and wished for, I felt deep
pain that this country was being betrayed by its own political
leaders, as it was by Mr Blair before the war on Iraq. I did feel
that Syria and the Syrians were abandoned by the world."
Gavin Shuker, a Labour member of Christians in Parliament, who
voted against the motion, said on Tuesday that his faith had played
a "clear role" in his decision-making, but that the issue was one
"where there is no clear right answer". De- scribing himself as
"neither a hawk nor a dove" (he protested against the war in Iraq,
but supported action in Libya), he was "deeply sceptical that armed
intervention in the region could be helpful for the people of
Syria. . . I reached a judgement that I could not vote in good
faith on military action, regardless of my party's position."
Jeremy LeFroy, a Conservative member of the same group, who
supported the Prime Minister, said: "There is a mistaken impression
that, by voting for the government motion, MPs were voting in
favour of military action. . . [It] required a further vote before
there could be any involvement by the UK in military action. . . I
believe that any military action should only be taken against Syria
in response to the use of chemical weapons, with the aim of
preventing further use, under a United Nations mandate, and by a
wide group of nations, including other Middle Eastern and Arab
nations. Any such military action should only be contemplated after
all other non-military means have been exhausted, and if the full
consequences of any such action have been considered, which I do
not currently consider to be the case."
David Burrowes, another Conservative member of the group that
supported the Prime Minister's motion, echoed this argument, and
described how "one of the most significant moments was not just the
end of the debate, but the beginning, when the Speaker's Chaplain
read from Psalm 46. . . which makes the point very clearly that our
Lord is sovereign, and nations need to humble themselves before
The Government, which is al- ready the second largest donor of
funds to the crisis, announced on Tuesday that it had committed
£348 million to help those affected by the conflict in Syria. This
represents the UK's largest-ever response to a humanitarian
The same day, the Revd Engin Yildirim, Priest-in-Charge of the
Turkish-speaking parish of the Re- surrection in Istanbul,
described the situation in Turkey, which is currently host to
460,000 Syrian refugees.
"You see a lot of people coming in need," he said. "There have
been some instances in the past couple of months where people are
going to churches because they have no home or no place to live. We
are a small church [with] not a lot of resources, but I believe
that it is very, very important that churches approach the
situation intentionally, to buffer up the need."
Although he had not observed tension in "cosmopolitan" Istanbul,
he was aware that, in smaller areas bordering Syria, such as
Antioch, people had "mixed feelings", and were wary of possible
The British Parliament's vote against military intervention had
provoked "a bit of disappointment" in Turkey, Mr Yildirim said, but
he was personally in favour of the decision, "because no one knows
who used the chemical weapons, and there is always the possibility
that they were used by groups who would want this invasion".
He suggested that the voices of Christians in Syria were not
being heard in Turkey, and asked people to pray for Christianity in
the Middle East, which was "increasingly diminishing"; and about
the potentially negative consequences of the growth of Sunni Islam
fundamentalist groups in the region.
It was expected that the crisis in Syria would be discussed at
the two-day summit meeting of the G20 leaders in St Petersburg,
which was to start on Thursday.
Church Times readers voted overwhelmingly against
military action in response to last week's online question. At the
time of going to press, 83 per cent of those voting said that they
were against military intervention; 17 per cent were in favour.