Father Ziad launches call for reconciliation
Father Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit living in Aleppo the Syrian project representative for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has launched a call so that the parties in conflict who are devastating the former economic lung of Syria and calling also to the West, to renounce to all provocations and commit themselves to reconciliation.
Following a first cease-fire agreement which came into effect on Wednesday for the hard-fought Syrian city of Aleppo, but which wasn’t respected – along with acts of violence by pro-Syrian fighters toward the civilian population which were reported – a second attempt seemed to work on Thursday. Many media reports indicate that civilians can now leave the Eastern part of Aleppo in relative security.
Father Ziad Hilal, who was a guest at Aid to the Church in Need Canada last June in Aleppo, talked with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with journalist Andrea Krogmann on Wednesday.
Andrea Krogmass (AK): Father Ziad Hilal, what is the current situation in Aleppo? Is the cease-fire being observed? (Interview on Wednesday, December 14, 2016)
Father Ziad (FZ) 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.
(AK) And in your area?
(FZ) 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!
(AK) How do you estimate the present situation in the east of Aleppo?
(FZ) For the first time in 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.
(AK) Were you able to drive to the eastern part without any difficulty?
(FZ) Yes, I was received well. There are army checkpoints but they let me through without further ado.
(AK) There have been media reports of massacres committed against the civilian population by the Syrian army and its allies…
(FZ) 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. Organizations 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.
(AK) Can you see any signs of such reconciliation?
(FZ) Not yet. We’ve destroyed the city because we haven’t yet managed to come together in a dialogue. We’ve lost our civilization and destroyed our history. What for? It’s a tragedy.
(AK) Many Syrians give foreign forces the principal blame for the war…
(FZ) 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.
(AK) Now that the eastern part of the city has been liberated, so to speak, do you see any hope of a rapprochement?
(FZ) 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!
(AK) Is there anything the west can do?
(FZ) 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.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in March 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has funded emergency aid projects to the tune of about 22 million dollars CAN. The pastoral charity calls for donations, and in particular for the continued donation of food and clothing and for heating and accommodation in the winter months.
By Andrea Krogmann, for Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office