Nuncio in Damascus: Mortar fire causing victims among Christians

Bab Touma area in Damascus

Nuncio in Damascus: Mortar fire causing victims among Christians

By Dale Gavlak/ Catholic News Service and

The Syrian conflict "is still under way" and the "road" to a "stable and lasting" peace is still "very long". In some areas of the country, "violence has diminished" and the situation "seems calmer", but in others "disturbing chapters have opened up," said Card Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus, as he commented on the violence that has hit certain sectors of the Syrian capital in recent hours, causing "victims and serious injuries" even among Christians.

Yesterday in Damascus mortar fire from the rebel enclave of Goutha, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, hit the old city and some Christian neighbourhoods including Bab Touma and al-Shaghour, causing at least eight deaths in the Christian community.

"Yesterday I was by chance passing by the French hospital in the afternoon, at around 4 pm,” Card Zenari told AsiaNews, “when I saw various wounded people, so much blood everywhere that it was upsetting, the wounded taken from the old city of Damascus that had come under mortar fire.”

“The rocket fire started around 2 pm and caused a lot of damage. At least 20, if not 30 wounded. There is still no official tally. And there are also countless deaths. Some students who left the Christian schools" are among the people affected by the mortar fires, the apostolic nuncio noted.

According to the cardinal, the situation in Damascus has become increasingly "critical" in recent weeks as a result of "the shelling and rockets". In the past, the capital could be considered "quieter", but in the last while "rocket fire has increased" affecting people and places of worship.

"There was mortar fire in the past, but they were minor episodes,’ Card Zenari added. “But now the conflict has flared up again," and is affecting the capital’s Christian community.

"It is hard to understand if they are targeting Christians in particular or if they are randomly firing rockets. It is difficult to figure this out and so we must not draw hasty conclusions."

For the prelate, the most plausible interpretation "is that the acts of violence of this terrible conflict are still ongoing and that the road to achieving a lasting stable peace is still very long".

Churches in Afrin, Syria, call on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians

In another development, Churches in Afrin, Syria, are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.

“We ask you to pray for us and for our city which, before a couple of days ago, was full of life, but today is not,” said the Rev. Saeed Daoud, a Syrian clergyman whose name has been changed at his request due to fear of retribution.

“The brutal attack of the Turkish military has been carried out, without any warning,” he told Catholic News Service in an email, referring to Turkey’s relentless shelling and ground offensive since January 20.

In an appeal for international help, another religious leader wrote: “We are asking for intervention and protection against the violent attacks which are being levied against us at this moment.

“Many lives are in mortal danger,” said the Rev. Hakim Ismael. “We are unable to protect ourselves or our families against these attacks, neither are we able to offer assistance or shelter to the innocents. Please help us.”

The city of Afrin, located in a Kurdish-controlled area of northwestern Syria, is approximately 30 miles from Aleppo.

Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, told CNS: “With the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the final phase of its defeat in Syria, we prayed and hoped to move forward in a new phase of reconciliation and rebuilding the life toward a future where all people - Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, Kurds, Arab, Assyrians and all - may live in dignity and justice.”

The priest said he was shocked by “another brutal and violent attack” on the people in Afrin.

“Here again, the innocent civilians are paying the price for political interests under the pretext of fighting against the terrorist,” said Youkhana, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk.

“The Turkish military operations against Kurdish and Christian people of the Afrin region cannot be justified. The civilians cannot be attacked under any claim,” he said, calling for an immediate end to the military operations and immediate aid to the people.

“Attacking who fought ISIS is shocking and questionable action,” he said. “We pray for decision makers to work for peace. Battle cannot be a path to peace.”

Dutch human rights advocate Johannes de Jong told CNS: “The civilian population of Afrin is deliberately targeted and being killed off. This is also a specific threat to the Christian church in Afrin.

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 15:27
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