Yesterday Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, accompanied by the Undersecretary of the Dicastery, Fr. Nicola Riccardi and Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, gave Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad a letter in which, according a statement by the Director of the Vatican press room Matteo Bruni, the Holy Father expresses his “deep concern over the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and especially for the tragic situation of the civilian population in Idlib”, located in located in north-west Syria, a rebel stronghold since late April . “It’s yet another demonstration of how much Pope Francis cares about the fate of Syria’s population and the extent of his concerns for their nine-year long continual suffering”, the nuncio told SIR. The content of the letter was not made known but the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, in an interview to the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication, Andrea Tornielli, published by Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano, clarified some of its contents: “The Pope – said Cardinal Parolin – continues to pray that Syria may regain a climate of fraternity after these long years of war, and that reconciliation may prevail over division and hatred.” In this reconciliation process, the Holy Father makes reference to “the conditions needed for the safe return of exiles and internally displaced persons, and for all those who wish to return to the country after having been forced to leave. He also mentions the release of prisoners and the access of families to information about their loved ones.” In the letter, the Pope also voices concerns over the conditions of political prisoners to whom, the Pope says, “humanitarian conditions cannot be denied.” The letter reiterates “the need to seek “an appropriate political solution to end the conflict, overcoming partisan interests. This must be done using the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation, along with the assistance of the international community.”
Your Eminence, with this initiative Pope Francis has probably rekindled the spotlight on the Syrian conflict and reminded everyone that a piecemeal world war is being fought…
“Syria is in fact a piece of this deeply worrying World war. Let it suffice to remember the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Syrian civil war has entered its ninth year, with tremendous suffering for the whole population, of all faiths and ethnicities.
With its high number of deaths, wounded and displaced people, this war is the most serious humanitarian catastrophe caused by man since the Second World War. There are more than six million internally displaced persons, 5 million in neighbouring countries. More than 300,000 people have been displaced in Idlib in the past three months.
In your view, could this letter prompt the resumption of negotiations?
The letter has first of all a humanitarian value, conveying closeness to the civilian population in their suffering, especially in the province of Idlib, threatened by a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions should the fighting continue. In the area, in fact, some 3 million civilians are caught in the crossfire. Therefore, priority must be given to relieving their suffering and demanding compliance with international humanitarian law, which in the first place provides for the protection of the civilian population and of infrastructures such as schools, hospitals and markets.
What is the diplomatic value of the letter?
The letter is a plea
to intensify efforts to end the immense suffering of the civilian population
protect it, and then find a political solution. In Syria, even where bombs have stopped falling, people say they are facing the threat of an economic war. Bombs no longer fall in Damascus, Homs and elsewhere, but the population is exposed to a poverty bomb. It affects 80% of the Syrian population, according to UN data, forced to live under the poverty threshold.
To what extent do international sanctions impact this economic war?
Some of the sanctions have a negative impact on the local population, this is evident. Let me give you an example: this year, winter lasted many months, it was cold until Easter and there was no fuel oil for heating. The embargo on oil and its derivatives has a negative impact on the population. Sanctions imposed on transactions affect the purchase of certain products.