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D&P stands #WithSyria

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register

03/25/2015

TORONTO (CCN) — Four years into Syria’s civil war, Canada’s Catholic development agency is petitioning Ottawa for more aid, Canadian diplomatic contributions to a peace plan and stronger efforts to choke off the money that keeps both the Assad regime and ISIS fighting.

In its first four days, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace petition had attracted nearly 200 signatures online at devp.org.

“There’s a need to do all we can to find a political solution,” Development and Peace emergency programs officer Guy Des Aulniers told The Catholic Register.

The petition is part of a global campaign involving more than 100 faith-based organizations and non-governmental agencies calling itself #WithSyria. An international version of the petition is posted at withsyria.com. All of the agencies in the global Catholic Caritas network who deliver aid to Syria, including Development and Peace, are part of the #WithSyria coalition.

In the four years since March 2011 pro-democracy protests were violently suppressed by police and the Syrian army, more than 200,000 Syrians, most of them civilians, have been killed. More than 11 million Syrians have been forced from their homes, with 3.5 million now living as refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Three million Syrian children no longer go to school.

A study of satellite images by Wuhan University professor Xi Li in China has revealed 83 per cent of the lights in Syria have gone out since March 2011. Islamic State fighters, the Assad regime army, Hezbollah and a long list of other militias are bombing the country back to the stone age. In Aleppo, once Syria’s second largest city, the normal infrastructure of a city no longer exists now that 97 per cent of the lights have gone out.

Development and Peace has contributed money and other forms of support to church and non-governmental organizations active inside Syria and in surrounding countries. The organization’s financial contribution over the four years has come to $13 million, including financing from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

But just pouring in money without working for a permanent peace doesn’t make sense, said Des Aulniers.

“We’re talking about ISIS, but we’re also talking about the Assad regime,” he said. “If we can put pressure on both, it’s a way to find a resolution to this conflict.”

As a G8 nation, Canada has to lead by putting pressure on countries and others who are either supplying arms or buying oil from ISIS and the government in Damascus.

Criminal regime or not, it’s time to talk to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, said Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada executive director Carl Hetu.

“At this particular moment you don’t give any legitimacy to Assad. Everybody agrees that if he falls it’s going to be worse chaos,” Hetu said. “Now what you need to do is find a way to solve this. The issue is not with Assad. Assad, you can negotiate with him. He knows that his regime won’t survive and the Alawites (the Shia Muslim minority that the Assad family comes from) will be slaughtered if he doesn’t go forward and try to solve this. Now what’s happening is to find a proper voice from the Syrian people to negotiate with. That’s where the problem is.”

It’s tempting to consign Syria to a long list of permanent, unsolvable problems in the Middle East, but the world can’t afford unsolvable problems as big as Syria, said Hetu.

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