Syria can reform says Melkite Patriarch

23 May 2014


Exiled: young refugees pose in an unofficial Syrian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan

Exiled: young refugees pose in an unofficial Syrian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan

THE crisis in Syria is the result of "murderous mercenaries" who are intent on destroying a peaceful nation on the road to reform, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III said on Tuesday.

Delivering the annual Embrace the Middle East lecture at St James's, Piccadilly, Patriarch Gregorios painted a positive picture of Syria before the three-year conflict, and argued against foreign intervention. "We believe in our nation, our country, and our President.

"This war is not what we normally think of as civil war - with Syrians fighting Syrians - but is rather a disastrous influx of more than 2000 outside groups intent upon destabilising Syrian society as we have known it for millennia."

He described the centuries-long peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, including his own personal experience of growing up in Syria: his mother breastfed him together with a Muslim "milk-brother".

Patriarch Gregorios gave a favourable picture of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, and suggested that life in Syria retained some normality: "Jobs are available, agriculture is developing. . . We use home-grown wheat despite sanctions". The government provided land for churches, and both mosques and churches enjoyed free electricity and water supplies. Freedom of worship was guaranteed.

He suggested that, before the outbreak of the conflict, Syria was already on the road to reform. He spoke of the establishment of ten universities.

Peace in Syria must be created by Syrians, he argued, and he called for the next conference to be held in Syria rather than in Geneva. He called on Christian leaders to "listen to the voice of the Church in Syria. Isn't it to our benefit to be loyal to our country and to our citizenship? Christians love everyone. . . We can build a new world, a new government, and witness a true Arab Spring of peace."

More than 150,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. Last week, the organisation Human Rights Watch said that "evidence strongly suggests that Syrian-government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in northern Syria in mid-April 2014."

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is investigating the allegations, which the Syrian government denies.

MORE than 33 million people are refugees in their own countries as a result of civil wars and faction fighting, writes Paul Wilkinson. In Syria, for example, one family flees its home every 60 seconds, a report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says.

The total, calculated up to the end of last year, is a record, jumping 4.5 million from the figure in 2012.

The Secretary General of the Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said that the numbers confirmed "a disturbing upward trend of internal displacement since IDMC first began monitoring and analysing displacement back in the late '90s.

"The dramatic increase in forced displacement in 2013, and the fact that the average amount of time people worldwide are living in displacement is now a staggering 17 years, all suggest that something is going terribly wrong in how we are. . . dealing with this issue."

The report found that almost two-thirds of the total came from just five countries: Syria, Colombia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.

The total included 8.2 million people who were forced from their homes during 2013 - up 1.6 million on the previous year, the vast majority in the Central African Republic, the DRC, and Syria.

Mr Egeland described Syria as "the largest, fastest-evolving internal displacement crisis in the world. . . Not only do armed groups control the areas where internal displacement camps are located, these camps are badly managed, provide inadequate shelter [and] sanitation, and limited aid-delivery.

"Further to this, the IDMC report reveals how large concentrations of IDPs have been particularly targeted by artillery bombardments and air strikes. . .

"We have to sit up, listen up, and act up by working more closely together to end this misery for millions; humanitarians alone cannot make this happen. Global internal displacement is everyone's problem, from politicians to private companies, development actors, and lawyers. We all have a role to play."


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