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Airstrikes and sanctions-talk leave bishops largely silent

13 April 2017


Just this much credibility: President Assad gestures during an interview on Thursday of last week

Just this much credibility: President Assad gestures during an interview on Thursday of last week

A SYRIAN priest working in the UK has described being “devastated” by the US strikes in Syria last week, and criticised the “total failure” of the Church to work for peace in his country.

Church leaders last week condemned the attack on Idlib, in which 87 people died, apparently after the use of the nerve gas sarin by the Syrian authorities. But they were largely silent after the US responded with a sustained missile attack on a Syrian airbase early on Friday of last week.

The Revd Nadim Nassar, director of the Awareness Foundation, compared the US response to “trying to put out the fire with gasoline”, and described it as “hypocrisy”. He asked: “Why has it moved now because 70 people died out of a gas attack?

“Is it OK for people to die under barrel bombs and shelling and suicide bombings?”

In the wake of the furore over the use of chemical weapons, which is being investigated by the UN, and which Syria and its ally Russia deny, the Syrian government has continued its use of cluster bombs, which explode above a target and shower incendiaries upon those underneath.

The US response — 59 Tomahawk missiles fired the airbase from which the chemical-weapons attack was supposedly launched — appears to signal a shift in policy under President Trump, who said that it was “in the vital national security interest of the US to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons”.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: “Regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.”

This position is consistent with that of the British Government, which has offered its full support for the US strikes, as “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical-weapons attack”.

But Catholic Bishops in Syria have criticised the US government for its response. The Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Joseph III Younan, told the Catholic News Service that it was “a shame” that it hadn’t waited for an “honest United Nations investigation. . .

“The agglomerate media and supremacist policy of the USA just want the killing and destroying conflict in Syria to continue, and this primarily to kill whatever attempt to resolve the bloody crisis,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, said that he was baffled by “the speed with which it was decided and carried out, without any adequate investigation into the tragic massacre with chemical weapons which took place in Idlib province”.

Many Christians in Syria fear the fall of President Assad, who has promised them protection from extremist forces.

Christian Aid said on Friday of last week that the UK must “push for an immediate cessation of violence by all parties”. It warned that military action would “likely only add to civilian suffering and deepen insecurity”.

The UK and the US are united in their criticism of Russia’s support for the Syrian president. The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, cancelled a trip to Moscow due to take place this week, and tried, but failed, to secure support from G7 ministers for fresh sanctions against senior Russian and Syrian figures.

Russia has condemned the US response, and warned that it “plays into the hands of extremists”. The Syrian deputy UN ambassador, Mounzer Mounzer, continues to maintain that his government would never use chemical weapons, and argued that they had been stockpiled by terrorists.

On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and called on the Government to cooperate with an investigation into the incident. Russia's deputy UN representative, Vladimir Safronkov, said the it laid blame prior to an independent investigation.

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