SYRIAN CHILDREN IN DANGER — Children in Horns, Syria’s third-largest city, receive some nourishment from the Jesuit Refugee Service. On Oct. 1 two car bombs exploded near Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal’s church in Horns, killing 47 children. The priest is urging caution as Canada debates military action. (Jesuit Refugee Service photo)

Caution urged as Canada debates military action

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholiv News

OTTAWA (CCN) — As Canada debated joining the United States and other nations in military intervention to stop the ISIS (or ISIL), a Jesuit priest based in Syria urges caution and renewed efforts to find peace.

“I am not a political man,” said Rev. Ziad Hilal, SJ, project manager for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. The Jesuit Refugee Service is a partner organization for CNEWA Canada and Toronto-based Canadian Jesuits International. “What I want to say, the Syrian people need peace and security.”

“It is very important to help Syria,” he said. “It is the first country for the civilization of the Christian people.”

While much of the focus lately has been on Iraq, Hilal said the situation remains “very bad in Syria for the moment,” with three million refugees outside of Syria and about nine million people displaced inside the country.

On Oct. 1, two car bombs exploded near his church in Homs, outside a school. The first bomb exploded and when people came running to help, a second bomb went off, killing more people. Forty-seven children were killed. “You can imagine how tragic this is for us, for the parents and for children, too,” he said.

Before the explosion, agencies were able to help give the families food and school supplies for the children. “But now if we ask the families, ‘Are you happy that we helped you?’ they will say to us, ‘No, because we lost our children.’ ”

“If the international community gives us food and non-food items, it is not enough for us, if afterward we will lose our parents our brothers and sisters,” he said. “It’s more important to have the peace, not only to have the food and the other help.”

Hilal visited CNEWA Canada’s Ottawa office Oct. 3, the same day Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a motion asking the House of Commons to join the United States, the United Kingdom and other European and Gulf partners “in launching airstrikes against ISIL.”

“ISIL has established a self-proclaimed ‘caliphate,’ at present stretching over a vast territory, roughly from Aleppo to near Baghdad, from which it intends to launch a terrorist jihad, not merely against the region, but on a global basis,” the motion states. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The motion was scheduled to be debated the week of Oct. 6.

Hilal expressed concern no efforts are being made to bring government and rebel factions together to dialogue. The emergence of ISIS further complicates matters, he said.
“How come the international community is only reacting now?” Hilal asked, noting that jihadists started pouring into the region over a year and a half ago. Many of them are from European countries such as France and Belgium, he noted. Some even come from Canada. Other jihadists come from the Gulf States.

“Many are from outside of Syria,” he said. “This has made things very complicated in Syria. It should have been addressed a long time ago.”

Now if the West is coming to bombard Syria, “things will get worse,” he said.

Hilal gave the example of the town of Raqaa in northern Syria. It’s a Muslim town with a small Christian community. ISIS has occupied it for over a year. They have taken control of the school, the churches, the businesses and government buildings. “When ISIS moved in and took over everything, nobody reacted,” he said.

If the West comes in and bombs, the local people living there will lose all their belongings, their workplaces will be destroyed and their infrastructure, he said. They would then go back to a town that will have been “annihilated,” he said. “No one is talking about that.”

He asked how the local people manage to survive with no more water, no more electricity, their businesses and shops destroyed.

The priest regrets that dialogue was not attempted when the jihadists first started moving in. A year ago, it might have worked, but “now they have become so strong, they don’t want to dialogue.”

Now ISIS has become very dangerous, not only for Christians, but for Syria and the world. ISIS killers don’t have any education and they “only want the Islamic state,” he said. “The problem with ISIS, this movement, this front, is that it does not want to live with the other persons, it only wants to apply the law of God.”

CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu pointed out that the same problem exists in Iraq. Even if ISIS is expelled, civil war could result unless the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have a strong government, he said. “The problem is not military, it is political,” Hétu said. Syrian government and rebel factions also need to find peaceful solutions. There needs to be a humanitarian plan and peace process in addition to any use of force to stop ISIS, he said.

ISIS is destroying cultural monuments and the heritage, history and traces of the past of the entire region, Hilal said.

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