Editorial – Support needed for Syria

Glenn Rutherford

The war in Syria began in 2011 and despite attempts at a cease-fire here and there, despite calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop killing his own people, the war continues full bore.

Especially in a part of eastern Syria called Ghouta. That region lies near the nation’s capital, Damascus, but there is apparently little hope of Assad having a change of heart while walking a road on the outskirts of town.

According to The Syrian Network for Human Rights, which according to a CNN story is based in London, more than 13,000 people have been killed — just in the region of Ghouta — since the start of the war.

One of the Amnesty International aid workers who managed to sneak into the region said on March 20 that the people of Ghouta have all but surrendered to anguish and hopelessness. They are, he said, “trapped by airstrikes and unable to escape … a wholesale slaughter witnessed by a motionless world.”

It’s the “motionless world” that should shame those of us who are preoccupied with our own spheres of influence, worried about re-seeding the lawn, paying medical bills, getting our children through school without their becoming targets for crazed shooters. Granted, there are many people — millions worldwide — who are trying their best to do the right thing.

There are organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Doctors without Borders and others who have tried, repeatedly, to relieve the suffering in Syria. But now most nations of the world are simply observers — they watch as Assad keeps medical aid and social necessities from reaching the people of his nation, people he seems committed to killing.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres said in February that Assad has apparently ordered the bombing of hospitals, schools and places of worship. In Ghouta, Antonio Guterres reported, 400,000 people are trapped, living in what he called “a hell on earth.” And an aid worker with Save the Children said people in the region face “constant airstrikes, barrel bombs and artillery bombardment” almost every day.

Since 2013, he said, the Ghouta region has been the object of more than 4,200 airstrikes. That’s a daunting number when you consider that only 400,000 people live, or used to live before they were killed, in an area just 41 miles square.

The people left in Ghouta “lack the minimal essentials of human life — food, medicine and clothes,” the aid worker said. A spokesman for Save the Children said that as of today, as you read this bit of information, the people of Ghouta “live in basements unequipped with the basics needed for living.”

“The basements are prisons for the masses … such (an) abject lack of cleanliness and health care facilities, such as water and personal hygiene equipment, have led to the spread of epidemics and other related issues, including lice among children,” a spokesman for Doctors without Borders said.

Assad has even taken to bombing cemeteries in the area, leading some people to believe he is trying to encourage the spread of plague and other potentially fatal maladies. People in both Ghouta and the city of Douma have taken to burying their dead in backyards and public parks.

Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have consistently reminded the world of the need to help those trapped in Syria. Late last year the pope praised Catholic charities for lending their helping hands to “all the victims of the war without distinction of ethnicity, religion or social group.”

Earlier this year he again pleaded with Assad and others assisting various warring parties to “guarantee emergency humanitarian assistance, to put down their weapons and make a commitment to dialogue” for peace.

So far it’s not working. So far the people of Syria have all but given up any hope that the world will come to their aid. Both the pope, the bishops’ conference and others have called on international funding agencies to, in the pope’s words, “do everything possible to alleviate the serious needs of the people of beloved Syria.”

“To all those who are suffering,” the pope said, “never lose hope! The church is alongside you, accompanies you and supports you.”

Those of us who are observing this atrocity from afar should do what we can to make the pope’s words come alive for the people of Syria. We should send donations to Catholic Relief Services and other agencies that are trying to help.

And we should pray that somehow the people who have created this abomination will come to their senses. As Pope Francis said: “All of this is inhumane. Evil cannot be fought with evil. And war is an evil.”

Glenn Rutherford

Record Editor Emeritus

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