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Melkite, Orthodox Patriarchs Urge World to Help Resolve Syrian Crisis

27 Feb 2015 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Two Syrian-born patriarchs separately urged the international community to work together to address the crisis in Syria and the region.

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, speaking to Catholic News Service on 26 February from the patriarchate in Damascus, Syria, said “it is shocking that the whole world” has not responded in a proper way to the crisis in Syria. He called for unity in reference to the Islamic State onslaught against Assyrian Christian villages in the Khabur region of northeast Syria.

Various reports listed those captured by Islamic State as ranging from 150 people to more than 400. Father Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI, said none of the more than 50 families in one entire village managed to flee during the assault, which began in the pre-dawn hours of 23 February.

He said he expected the number of displaced registered families from 35 villages to reach 1,200 families by the end of the day of 26 February. They have been sheltering in homes and churches in Hassake and in Qamishli.

So far, he said, about 15 young Assyrians had been killed; many of them were fighting to defend and protect villages and families.

“It is time for the international community to work very closely with Syria and also with Iraq, who are really the real victims of these ‘takfiri’ and jihadist groups,” Patriarch Gregory said.

The terrorists, he said, “are surely supported by — maybe Turkey, maybe Arabs, I don’t know — otherwise, how can they be so powerful if they are not supported by some countries?”

Rather than the “very unrealistic” current approach “to support the weak and divided so-called opposition, it is better and more realistic to help Syria and get together to overcome these jihadist takfiri and inhumane groups of Daesh [the Arabic acronym for Islamic State] and so on,” Patriarch Gregory said.

“This is how we can overcome this crisis, which is dangerous not only for Syria and Iraq but also for the Arab world and the European world. We have victims now in France, in London, in America, and so on.”

“Today the danger is an extremely universal one,” he warned.

He said the Arab world and the Islamic world need unity and noted that “the Islamic world is able to really give a common position against these groups who are saying they are Islamic groups, but they are not.”

Patriarch Gregory said he has been in contact by phone with Bishop Aprim Nathniel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassekeh, Syria, who is hosting and supporting the displaced. Patriarch Gregory expressed concern about the fate of the churches in the 35 villages the Assyrian Christians fled, noting that there is at least one church per village; he said nothing was yet known about their status.

“Here in Damascus, we are praying with the people. During Lent, we have daily prayers, and I can say with pride that almost all of our churches are full each day.”

In a 25 February statement, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch condemned the killings and terrorist acts that targeted the Christians of the Khabur region.

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