The Syria Times reports that “Maronite Patriarch Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rahi has renewed his call on the international community to help the displaced Syrians return to their homeland.”
Patriarch al-Rahi stated that certain governments are purposely preventing the return of Syrian refugees due to geo-political machinations “which have nothing to do with human values.”
Patriarch al-Rahi previously affirmed back in April that “some international parties don’t want displaced Syrians to return home” because it “serves their political interests.”
This horrific fact was also affirmed by the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, and other government ministers to one of The Saint George Educational Trust’s founding trustees during a recent visit to The Lebanon.
“The Bishops of the Maronite Church have voiced grave concern over the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan,” reports Independent Catholic News.
Asia News adds that: “The Maronite Church has clearly condemned the decision of the U.S. president, Donald Trump, to support Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights…….. the monthly meeting of the Assembly of Maronite bishops, under the chairmanship of Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, in the patriarchal see of Bkerké, ended with a statement that ‘this decision constitutes a violation of international law and paper of the United Nations, and the right of every people to recover their stripped and occupied territory.’ This principle – the bishops add – also applies to the right of Lebanon to recover what is still occupied on its soil.”
Meanwhile, The Syria Times reports that the Maronite patriarch “has stressed that some influential countries don’t want the Syrian refugees to return home.
‘The problem today lies with the huge powers, since they do not want to facilitate the refugees return. These countries insist not to separate the refugees case from the political solution in Syria. However, if the status quo persists, it foretells of future risks’ .”
Church of England vicar, Rev. Andrew Ashdown, meets the refugees from east Aleppo to find out what is really happening in Syria (first published 14th December 2016).
ALEPPO: THE TRUTH THAT THE WESTERN MEDIA REFUSES TO REPORT
This morning we visited the main IDP Registration centre at Jibrin, for Internally Displaced Persons from East Aleppo. They are registered here for humanitarian reasons and access to services, before they go either to relatives in other parts of Syria if they have them (many do), or to other reception centres where they are provided with accommodation, food and other services. During the past two weeks they have registered 95,000 refugees, but estimate there may be a further 10,000 who have not registered. There were thousands of people there who have arrived within the last couple of days. Let me make clear that we visited in a taxi without Government or Army accompaniment, and without prior notice. We were not expected.
The Centre is well organised. The Syrian Red Crescent have tents available that offer information about all social welfare facilities available, and offer free medical attention. In cases of emergency, ambulances are on hand to transport patients to hospital. Free food is being distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syrian Army, and we saw a convoy of Russian lorries providing aid. There is also a Russian field hospital on site which offers immediate medical treatment.
The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable. All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today. They all said the same thing. They said that they had been living in fear. They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children. One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped. They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government. The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.
They told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices. Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment. (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.) Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels. They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.
One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking. He said: “Thank God we are free. We now have food. We can now live our lives. God bless the Syrian Army.” They all said they were glad to be out and to be free. All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free. One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.” We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone. They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.”
I therefore have two key questions:
1. It is now only the Syrian Red Crescent, the Syrian Army, and the Russians who are providing humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands who have fled East Aleppo. Why are none of the international agencies offering to help them now?
2. Why is it, given that stories about massacres by the Syrian Army are headline news worldwide, and several international media units are in Aleppo, that there is not one international media agency actually at the Registration Centre talking to the refugees themselves? We were the only ones there. Here are people who have lived through it who are keen to talk, yet the media take at face value unverifiable claims by highly dubious sources. The collapse of any form of reliable investigative journalism in a context of global significance is utterly shocking.
The refusal of the western media to report objectively, or to seekinformed information from the thousands of civilians from East Aleppo who are keen to share their stories, whilst granting full credibility to terrorists without any on the ground verifiable information on their claims, is nothing short of obscene.
Everything that I have seen and heard in Aleppo; from civilians in East and West from all communities, and from talking with doctors, faith communities and with Army people as well, and witnessing and risking bombardments on both sides, convinces me that the reports in the western media are twisted fabrications of the horrors that are happening in ‘rebel’ controlled areas. And still, the media refuses to listen to the witness of the people themselves.
Postscript: Christmas is coming in Syria. In a country and a city in which people of all faiths are free to worship; where mosques and Churches stand side by side; and where Christmas music is playing in cafes and restaurants. And yet the world is mourning the defeat in Aleppo of extremists who destroy Christian and Muslim places of worship, and slaughter any who do not follow their obscene ideology.
Pictured above: CNN’s favourite ‘independent film maker’ American Jihadist and Al-Qaeda member Bilal Abdul Kareem, interviewing Sheikh Abdullah Muhaysini, leader of Jaish al Fatah: Saudi educated and funded, trainer of child suicide bombers, judge and executioner of ‘apostates’, Chief of Head-Choppers and Mass Murderer.
An Anglican colleague of one of our friends, Rev. Andrew Ashdown, recently returned from a visit to Syria. Rev. Ashdown led the first British Christian delegation to Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 and which saw numerous meetings with local political and religious leaders and Christian communities.
He has written a fascinating account of the visit.
REFLECTIONS ON A VISIT TO SYRIA – Part 6
31 August – 7 September 2016
Lattakia.. (A case-study for the West ?)
In Lattakia one enters a different world… a thriving coastal city, and heartland of the Alawite community. Lattakia has not been untouched by the war. There have been car bombs and attacks, and massacres in villages in the surrounding hills, most notably at Kessab in 2014. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured. Meeting with the Governor of Lattakia province, he told us of some of the challenges facing the district. Most notable is the fact that Lattakia province – a small coastal area – hosts 1 million internally displaced people who have fled rebel-controlled areas. Of these, only 4000 live in Community Centres set up by the government. All the rest are living in houses provided by the government. All services are provided by the government free of charge: electricity, schools and health care. The Centres that exist are simple but provide the best possible conditions.
The Governor told us that many people had come from other cities to Lattakia because it is a comparatively safe area. Doctors, teachers, engineers, craftspeople and local people share their homes, food, water, schools with the families of soldiers who have gone to fight. Health care is free for all. He also pointed out that there hasn’t been a single incident of violence against local people by the IDPs, whatever their background, and that they can move freely. He continued: “What is happening in Syria is not just terrorism attacking Syria, but it is terrorism that is attacking the whole world. Those countries who support the terrorists will suffer terrorism in their own countries. More dangerous than terrorism is the ideology that is affecting the next generation. Syria is committed to reconciliation. We recognise that we are all Syrians and we will always welcome those who have left even if they have been fighters against us. We are fighting terrorism on behalf of the whole world, and we shake hands with those countries who will help to end this terrorist war. I thank all people who stand with Syria and everyone who supports us with aid such as UN aid organisations to support the internally displaced, and the good people who come to see the reality for themselves.”
Internally Displace refugees and their stories:
In Lattakia we visited one of the Internally Displaced Centres, set up in the buildings of a sports complex. This had not been previously arranged. The residents were clearly surprised to see us and unprepared. Each family has a room. There are facilities for cooking as well as running water, showers and lavatories. The Government runs a kindergarten for the children with other small local NGOs, and the Patriarch of Antioch regularly brings milk. The people we met were from Idleb province and had been there since 1 January 2013. (These stories are very similar to the many stories that I have heard from IDPs in Lattakia, Homs, Damascus, and from refugees in Lebanon and Iraq).
The people in the pictures are those whose stories are shared below in their own words (PDF version of the report with the pictures available upon request):
“Back home we were besieged for 2 years by Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, FSA and Nur ud Din Zenki.” (We asked if they really meant that FSA ‘the moderates’ were also with the other groups, and they confirmed that was the case.) “The Jihadists stopped all food supplies and placed snipers in the mountains who shot us. We had to put the bodies of those who died in houses. We had no medical care for those who were wounded and we had to use clothes as bandages. In 2 months, 250 people were killed by snipers, mortars and tanks and at least 300-400 were injured – some with minor injuries and others with severe injuries. After the continuous siege we decided to escape from the village. As we ran, some went to the Turkish border, some to Idleb. 130 of those who fled to Idleb were captured and killed. Those who fled to Turkey had relatives who could helpf them. Then the Syrian government brought us here and provided this accommodation.” We asked about the fact that the media say that the majority of the IDPs flee the brutality of the Syrian government. The speaker laughed. “It is the terrorists who are brutal. Before the conflict we had safety. I don’t need the freedom the Jihadists are calling for as we already had freedom.” We asked what he wanted to say to the international community. He laughed again: “Leave us alone. We’ve had enough of your ‘freedom’! Let Syrians decide their own future”.
Then the women told us their experiences:
Fadila: “We were besieged by terrorist groups supported by Turkey, attacking us with all kinds of weapons. My husband was helping the Army to defend us and he was killed by a sniper. I have 7 children and I hope we will return soon. The town I came from has 2 parts. One part helped the terrorists, but the majority resisted”.
Fatima: “We were under siege by the terrorists, and on 24 December 2012 I fled with all the people of the village at night. Women were divided into 2 parts and we arrived safely. The rest were captured and killed, including my three children, aged 48,42 and 37. They all had children who are with their mothers under the protection of the government here”.
Aysha: “I lost my son aged 25 and my husband aged 52. When we escaped they were captured and killed by beheading. My husband was caught, beaten and shot with 50 bullets. My brother and my brother’s son were also killed in the same way”.
Return journey from Lattakia to Damascus.
The return journey to Damascus from Lattakia via Homs was poignant. A few days previously 4 car bombs had exploded almost simultaneously at checkpoints in Homs, Tartous, Hassakeh and near Damascus. It is particularly shocking when you see the long queues of cars at these checkpoints, filled within innocent men, women and children, and the many Syrian soldiers around them, who are the husbands, sons, uncles and fathers of Syria. In each of these car bombs, over 40 people had died and dozens were injured. One of them had exploded at the very checkpoint where just the day before, we had stopped and talked with the soldiers – soldiers who were probably blown to pieces the following day. On our return from Lattakia, we passed the spot where one of the car-bombs had exploded, and also skirted an area where battles were continuing to take place in the Damascus countryside. What is shocking is that as far as we are aware, none of these car-bombs, or those who died, were mentioned by the international media. After all, it does not suit the narrative of heroic ‘moderate’ rebels, fighting the ‘brutality’ of a man who happens to be supported by so many… does it?
The Church’s pre-eminent theologian St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in the Summa Theologica that relations with foreigners can be either peaceful or hostile according to the Moral Law. If certain nations had a close relationship then citizenship could be obtained after the third generation of living peacefully in a compatible nation; whereas others with whom their relations were hostile were never to be admitted to citizenship.
The Angelic Doctor further teaches in De Regno, quoting Aristotle’s Politics, that in general an influx of foreigners is particularly harmful to civil life and civic customs.