“The international community must commit itself to peace in Syria”

Interview with Issam John Darwish, Melkit Archbishop of Zahlé in Lebanon

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada 

In Lebanon there are more and more clashes between Assad supporters and Assad opponents. Is Lebanon being drawn increasingly into the Syrian conflict?Syrie - 1

Yes. The situation in Syria is having a direct effect on the stability of Lebanon. This is being felt in all areas. The government has broken down as a result. The parliamentary elections, which should actually take place in June, have been postponed. Our economy is also feeling the effects of the situation in Syria: many tourists have cancelled their trips to Lebanon out of fear. And what’s more, we have a million Syrian refugees in the country. We help them where we can. In my archdiocese alone we have taken in 700 families. But these masses of people are pushing Lebanon to the limit. And this figure will grow if the conflict in Syria continues.

 What can the politicians of Lebanon do to stabilise their country?

I fear that the politicians in Lebanon are powerless. They have been unable to agree either on electoral law or on internal security. The Lebanese are therefore genuinely afraid that the Syrian war will spill over into Lebanon. The international community must therefore act in the interest of Lebanon to put pressure on the parties to the conflict to stop the war in Syria. Otherwise it threatens to engulf the whole region.

 But do you believe that the international community is capable of this? The UN Security Council, for instance, is deadlocked when it comes to the Syrian question.

It appears that Moscow and Washington are moving closer to one another at the moment. I therefore appeal to the international community to commit themselves resolutely to the cause of peace in Syria. Soon the Syria conference will take place in Geneva. This is an excellent opportunity to put forward a new road map for peace. I call on the European countries in particular to put pressure on all parties to the conflict to come to the negotiating table.

The western powers believe that the resignation of President Assad is a prerequisite for reconciliation and peace in Syria. Do you think that as well?

 I don’t believe it’s the time to think about this. The parties to the conflict must first sit down together. Then we’ll see whether Assad will carry on or not.

But do you really believe there can be reconciliation in Syria after 80,000 dead?

It’s not easy. But there are initial indications. Recently I took part in an international delegation which was led by, among others, the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire. We travelled to Damascus and we met both sides. Both the government representatives and the rebels assured us that they were basically willing to conduct negotiations. This can only be achieved with the help of the international community. A peaceful dialogue between the Syrians is the way to achieve peace and stability. Democratic progress is only possible through negotiations and discussions, not by waging war. First the fighting and the bloodshed must cease.

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