A senior bishop in Syria has rejected calls for an international intervention in the conflict between opponents and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We do not accept foreign intervention,” said the bishop, who remained anonymous for security reasons, in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“Action of this kind is against every international law. We are able to organize ourselves and continue our life.”
World powers are divided over whether to act on behalf of Syrian rebels, in a situation increasingly regarded as a civil war. China and Russia oppose the idea, broached by some Western and Arab politicians, of an intervention that could amount to a backing of the rebel forces.
On Feb. 28, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the organization's security council that President al-Assad's forced had killed over 7,500 Syrians since March 2011, when protests against his rule began.
But in his remarks released the same day, the anonymous Syrian bishop warned that an overthrow of the government could be disastrous, particularly for Christians and other religious minorities. There are fears of a violent power struggle, if the regime collapses rather than making a peaceful transition.
“We in Syria do not want to become like Iraq (where) we have lost so many Christians because of war and devastation,” the bishop explained. In the rebel stronghold of Homs, religiously-driven violence has reportedly caused many Christians to flee.
The bishop said his “most important” concern was to prevent a situation in which people would “want to stay but the insecurity and violence encourages them to leave.”
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the country's Christian population declined from over 800,000 to its current total of less than 150,000. Islamist groups targeted the ancient Chaldean Church for violent persecution, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring countries or other parts of the world.
Many of these exiles, from the Chaldean Catholic Church and other Middle Eastern Christian traditions, found refuge in Syria. The country is home to 2.5 million Christians who have historically lived alongside other religious groups.
“We Christians want to stay in Syria and live peacefully and with everybody and continue our presence serving our country and our people,” the anonymous bishop said in his remarks from the embattled country.
In 2011, the Damascus-based head of the Melkite Catholic Church, Patriarch Gregorios III, told Western leaders that Arab countries needed peaceful and orderly “evolution, not revolution.”
More recently, Lebanese Maronite Archbishop Paul N. El-Sayeh of Antioch told Aid to the Church in Need on Feb. 20 that “everybody is suffering in Syria because there is violence coming from every side.”
He called for warring factions to “sit down and negotiate,” echoing Pope Benedict's mid-February appeal for “dialogue, reconciliation and a commitment to peace” in Syria.