23 May 2014, The Tablet

Syrian church figures condemn foreign intervention

Syrian church leaders speaking in London this week condemned foreign intervention in Syria, saying that a mixture of ignorance and arming the rebels has cost lives.

“One must not forget the role played by countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in backing the jihadists to destroy the country and destabilise the lives of millions of innocent citizens,” Eustatius Matta Roham, Metropolitan of Jazirah and Euphrates, told an audience on Tuesday.

The Metropolitan was introducing the Damascus-based Greek Melkite Patriarch Gregory Laham III who was giving a lecture organised by Christian relief agency Embrace the Middle East.

The Patriarch said Syria’s various Orthodox and Catholic Churches want a peace process that is Syrian-led and they “reject any sort of foreign intervention”. “Don’t destroy Syria and its children to bring about regime change,” he said. “You have to change minds and not regimes. My government is my government until it is changed by an election.”

He was highly critical of Western depictions of the war as “persecution” of Christians by Syrian Muslims. The suffering of Christians was caused by “fundamentalist elements who have entered our country with only violence in mind against every Syrian,” he said.

A Melkite nun travelling with the Patriarch, Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, who carries out grass-roots reconciliation work, agreed. “Who are the rebels?” she asked. Referring to the many small foreign jihadist groups who have joined in the fighting started by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), she said: “There are 2,000 factions.” However she added that some FSA fighters were wanting to stop fighting and said Syrian society was “waking up” to its political choices and realising it can “stop being an instrument of foreign forces”.

The Patriarch said that since the start of Syria’s three-year war, “over one hundred thousand people have been killed, eight million displaced, two million children traumatised, hundreds of villages destroyed, thousands … abducted for ransom, raped or otherwise assaulted, shelled, abused and intimidated. Thousands of Christians’ homes have been destroyed, 91 churches destroyed or damaged, and 24 villages emptied of their Christian inhabitants; more than one thousand Christians (both civilians and military personnel) have been killed. About 450,000 Christians have become refugees inside and outside Syria.

The Patriarch said he believed that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would resolve 50 per cent of the Arab world’s problems and fanaticisms and make coexistence possible as it had been before the foundation of State of Israel in 1948. He said he had written to Pope Francis ahead of the papal visit to the Holy Land this weekend and was hoping for a “surprise” from him. 

Above: damage inside the St Takla Monastery north-east of Damascus. Photo: Reuters

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