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Prince fears for the plight of Middle East Christians

13 February 2015

PA

Scripted: the Prince of Wales and the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, learning to write Arabic, in the Al Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan on Sunday

Scripted: the Prince of Wales and the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, learning to write Arabic, in the Al Za'atari refugee ca...

THE Prince of Wales has spoken of his concern that a time might come when there are no more Christians living in the Middle East. Asked, in a BBC interview, recorded before he began a visit to the region, if he thought there was a danger that they would all be forced to leave, the Prince replied: "I think there is a real worry because the numbers have gone down so dramatically. Now . . . in Mosul and other centres, where there were a lot of Christians, there are few left. They were intimidated to a degree you can't believe."

The Prince said these people had been stripped of everything, "their houses taken over, marked with an 'N' - that's what so frightening - for 'Naserenes'". He said that many Christians who had left were fearful of going back and faced "a most agonising situation".

The Prince emphasised the need to combat the radicalisation of religion, and said that there was a need for greater understanding of the true roots of religious faith. "The most important thing", he continued, "is to remind people of the distortions of the great religions" and concentrate on the "original ideas and inspirations" of their founders. "So often their message is so distorted by their putative followers," he said. "We have to work harder to build bridges, and we have to remember that our Lord taught us to love our neighbour, to do to others as you would have them do to you. To go on, despite the setbacks and discouragements, to show justice and kindness to everyone."

Jordan was the first stop in the Prince's six-day tour, which began on Saturday. He also visited Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, Prince Charles addressed an interfaith dialogue hosted by King Abdullah II. The Prince took up the theme of the distortion and abuse of religions, saying that the dialogue initiative in Jordan came at a time when "the situation in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere could not be more desperate. I do not need to tell you, of course, of the horrors that have been inflicted in the name of religion. All those who have any feeling have watched in agony as people of all faiths have been persecuted, and driven from their homes, tortured and killed in the most barbaric way imaginable."

The Prince said that "it is all too easy to interpret what has happened as a 'clash of faiths', a sign of the irreconcilable differences between different faith communities. . . To do so could not be more wrong." It was important to emphasise what "binds Christianity and Islam together in a dialogue of love, compassion, and mercy. These shared values have helped communities live alongside one another in harmony for literally hundreds of years . . . I have every confidence that compassion and mercy will ultimately overcome evil."

Shortly after his arrival in Jordan, Prince Charles met a group of Iraqi Christian refugees. One said that they had been homeless for six months and did not want to return "because it is impossible to live with the people who destroyed our homes and destroyed our church. Those people were our neighbours with whom we lived together but when Daesh [Islamic State] came, they directly became our enemy. And they deprived us of everything."

The Prince expressed his sympathy. He could not "imagine a worse situation to be in and it won't be of any consolation, but I have been praying every day for all of you . . . I wish I could find a solution now."

Later, he visited the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, home to more than 80,000 refugees, and toured the facilities that have been established by aid organisations.

The International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, who accompanied Prince Charles on his tour, announced that the UK would contribute a further £100 million to help support Syrian refugees, making the total British contribution pledged towards the refugee crisis £800 million.

Aside from those forced out of their home by Islamist advances, many of those sheltering in Jordan fled from attacks launched by the Syrian government. But in an interview with the BBC, broadcast on Monday, President Bashar al-Assad dismissed reports that civilian areas had been targeted. He also justified the use of force against the demonstrators in the early days of the uprising, saying that "during the first few weeks many policemen were killed. Shot dead. I don't think they were shot dead and killed by the sound waves of the demonstrators - so it was just a fantasy to talk about this. . . We have to talk about facts. From the very beginning, the demonstrations weren't peaceful."

President Assad also denied the widely reported use of barrel bombs filled with explosive shrapnel and dropped from military helicopters on towns and cities. Adopting a facetious tone, he replied: "I know about the army: they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven't heard of the army using barrels - or maybe cooking pots."

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