A senior Middle East archbishop has appealed for all sides in Syria to put down their arms and negotiate, saying he fears a descent into full-scale civil war. Describing the situation in Syria as “desperate”, Archbishop Paul El-Sayeh said action was needed to prevent violence from potentially spreading to his country of Lebanon, which has close links with neighbouring Syria.
Speaking from Lebanon in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop El-Sayeh, Curia Bishop of Antioch based in Beirut, called on the international community to step up action to bring Syria’s Assad regime and rebel forces to the negotiating table.
The prelate, a Maronite-rite Catholic who until last year was Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, said: “Everybody is suffering in Syria because there is violence coming from every side. It is a desperate situation. I wish everyone would sit down and negotiate. Problems cannot be solved by violence.”
The Archbishop said the threat of violence spreading to neighbouring Lebanon was highlighted by recent clashes in Tripoli between two sides active in the Syria conflict.
But he said that in Lebanon the desire to avoid a repeat of the 15-year civil war would discourage politicians and people from becoming embroiled in the Syria conflict.
He added: “There is a concern about the violence coming from Syria but at the same time there is an awareness that conflict will not help anyone and that everyone has an interest in not letting the situation deteriorate. I do not imagine that there will be a big flare up in Lebanon.”
The Archbishop said he doubted if the suffering of Christians was notably different to that of other faiths adding: “You need to remember that Christians have been on very good terms with Muslims there. They have been living together for years.”
However, Church leaders in the region have expressed fears that, were Assad to fall from power, Christians would be among the worst to suffer, with Islamist groups filling the power vacuum.
The archbishop called on Christians and others to pray for peace.
He said: “We should pray that those in positions of power do what they can to alleviate the suffering of the people. The problem now is the suffering of the people and we should be praying that a new democracy is born and that human rights are respected.”
The Middle East is a priority region for Aid to the Church in Need which was asked by Pope Benedict to help in a part of the world where “the local Church is threatened in its very existence”.
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