ACN Interview: Friday, 16th December – SYRIA
Jesuit priest calls for reconciliation in Aleppo
By Andrea Krogmann
On Wednesday a cease-fire agreement came into effect for the hard-fought Syrian city of Aleppo. But there are media reports that fighting is continuing and acts of violence are still being carried out by the pro-Syrian forces against the civilian population. Father Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit and the Syrian project partner of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Aleppo, spoke with the ACN and appealed to the parties in the conflict and to the western nations to cease provocations and commit themselves to reconciliation. The interview was conducted by Andrea Krogmann.
(Fr Ziad Hilal © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) Father Ziad Hilal, what is the current situation in Aleppo? Is the cease-fire being observed?
No, after a pause the fighting has obviously broken out again. We hear bombs and missile fire relatively close by. Not far from us there are two areas where the rebels are holed up and refuse to surrender. Up to now we've only heard fighting.
And in your area?
In our area it's quiet. Many people have come from the east of the city to the west. Numerous organisations are there to help them. It has been a very cold day.
But only a few days ago our convent was the target of an attack. In our building a missile struck at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening and caused material damage. We are normally celebrating Holy Mass at this time in our church, but on this particular Saturday we were on a retreat with a community of sisters. That's what saved us!
How do you estimate the present situation in the east of Aleppo?
For the first time for five years I was able to visit the eastern part of the city and get an idea of the situation, specifically in the Christian quarter of Al-Midan. All you see is total destruction. Our Saint Vartan Centre has also been severely damaged. And then there are the two parts of the city where the rebels are resisting. I don't understand why they're doing that. After all, they have no option.
(Total destruction in the town Al-Midan in Eastern Aleppo © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) Were you able to drive to the eastern part without any difficulty?
A) Yes, I was received well. There are army checkpoints but they let me through without further ado.
Q) There have been media reports of massacres committed against the civilian population by the Syrian army and its allies...
A) I have my doubts as to these reports. There may have been isolated cases but we haven't heard anything here. You have to know that these days a lot of false information and fake pictures are being circulated. Organisations on the spot, such as the Red Cross, have not propagated such news to date. The problem is that people tend to exaggerate. It's important not to provoke at this point, but to remain calm. The thing is to encourage people to accept one another and to dare to try reconciliation.
Q) Can you see any signs of such reconciliation?
A) Not yet. We've destroyed the city because we haven't yet managed to come together in a dialogue. We've lost our civilisation and destroyed our history. What for? It's a tragedy.
Q) Many Syrians give foreign forces the principal blame for the war...
A) We mustn't point the finger at others: first and foremost we are the guilty ones. But I must say that the media are playing a miserable role in this war. They are provoking the two sides and setting one against the other. These provocations have got to stop.
Q) Now that the eastern part of the city has been liberated, so to speak, do you see any hope of a rapprochement?
A) The fight for Aleppo has been a bitter one. The city has been completely destroyed and an inordinate amount of patience was needed even to achieve the present cease-fire. But we must keep our hopes up, otherwise why are we still here? In the course of its history Aleppo has experienced many conquerors. Thousands and thousands have died here and the city has been destroyed time and again. And yet it has always bounced back. So let us hope!
Q) Is there anything the west can do?
A) First and foremost: stop the provocations! Call on the politicians to exercise reason and to seek moderate talks and reconciliation. The Middle East must become a peaceful region where all live in peace together. Otherwise it will become hell for us.
(The ransacked Maronite Church in Aleppo © Aid to the Church in Need)
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in March 2011 ACN has funded emergency aid projects to the tune of $21 million. The charity calls for donations, and in particular for the continued donation of food and clothing and for heating and accommodation in the winter months.To help this cause please donate on line at: www.aidtochurch.org/middleeast.php
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153.
On Line donations can be made at www.aidtochurch.org