The key to ending Syria’s ongoing conflict lies not with the local people, but with the leaders of the international community, said a Syrian-born Franciscan priest this week.
“We know that the solution today is not in our hands as Syrians. We know that the key [to building peace] is outside Syria, in the [hands of the] many, many, big countries of the world,” Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh told a small group of journalists May 31.
Speaking after a press conference for the release of an Italian-language book on the rebuilding of Aleppo, he said he prays “with all my heart, that [powerful countries] could have a solution for us and for all these crises… a solution in which we can live in Syria.”
He said that minorities in Aleppo and throughout the Middle East are worried for the future, particularly about how the international community will decide to act on the Syrian crisis, since the impact on their community could be grave.
Alsabagh, 47, was born and raised in Damascus, and after a period serving as a Franciscan in Rome, in 2014 asked to be allowed to return to Syria to be a pastor in Aleppo. “Viene il Mattina,” or “The Morning Comes,” is Alsabagh’s second book on Aleppo.
Subtitled, “Aleppo, Syria. Repair the house, heal the heart,” the book relates the state of the city since 2016, including the progress of the material reconstruction and the healing of the people.
“I ask always for prayer. Because I believe deeply in the strength of prayer, even to continue our mission,” Alsabagh said, noting the 800-year history of a Franciscan presence in Syria. All that we have done is “because many people are praying for us.”
The priest also said it is important that people follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, because if everyone did so, “we would arrive to peace in all the world and we would arrive at the solution to the many, many crises and problems that we have.”
According to Alsabagh, the biggest challenge Christians face in Syria right now is “to have peace in the heart.”
Continuing conflict, such as the U.S. missile strikes in April, are a sign to Syrians that “we have not finished the war and that another stage of this crisis will be present for many, many years,” he said. The fear is that “perhaps the war will not have an end in Syria.”
Syria has been in the throes of a violent and turbulent civil war since 2011, which has killed nearly half a million and left 10 million displaced.
The conflict has seen heavy international involvement through the support of various parties by the U.S., Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The presence of ISIS in Syria added to the violence and instability in the area.
In April of this year, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered airstrikes in Syria, joined by the U.K. and France, in a joint show of military force following the suspected use of chemical warfare by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A total of 105 missiles targeted chemical weapons facilities in the country.
The Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Churches condemned the attacks as pre-emptive and unjust, arguing that there was not “sufficient and clear evidence” of the suspected chemical warfare attacks.
In comments during the presser, Alsabagh said that many of those who live in the Middle East consider Assad “the better choice” at this stage. He pointed out the concern of Syrian patriarchs for the Christian minority in the country and their preference for Assad over possible alternatives such as Islamists or other radical groups that persecute Christians.
May 31 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for the United States to leave Syria in an interview with international news channel Russia Today. “The Americans should leave. Somehow, they’re going to leave,” Assad said.
Assad also stated that if negotiation attempts with Syrian rebel groups are not effective, they will use force to take control of areas, “with Americans or without Americans, we don’t have any other option.”