On Wednesday, a ceasefire in Aleppo was declared, with regime forces having driven out the remaining rebel forces. However, there are reports of continued fighting and, according to the UN (as reported by the BBC), there have been execution-style shootings by government troops of civilians in formerly rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal, who oversees projects in Syria for international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is currently in Aleppo and spoke with ACN by telephone today.
By Andrea Krogmann.
Do you have a sense of the situation in the eastern part of the city?
For the first time for 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. There are army checkpoints but they let me through without further ado.
What do you make of media reports of massacres committed against the civilian population in eastern Aleppo by the Syrian army and its allies?
I have my doubts. There may have been isolated cases but we haven’t heard anything here. These days a lot of false information and fake pictures are being circulated. Organizations on the spot, such as the Red Cross, have not reported 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. 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.
Many Syrians put the blame for the war on foreign forces.
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.
Now that the eastern part of the city has been conquered by Damascus, do you see any hope of a rapprochement?
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!
Is there anything the West should be doing?
First and foremost: stop the provocations! Call on the politicians to exercise reason and seek talks and reconciliation. The Middle East must become a peaceful region where all live in peace together. Otherwise it will become hell for us.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)