The immediate end of the suffering of the people in Syria “must now be the focus for all parties in the Geneva 2 talks,” World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in a meeting on 14 February in Geneva with members of the Syrian opposition. And “this includes all parties in the conflict,” he added.
Representatives of the Syrian opposition requested the meeting with Tveit after receiving a WCC message calling for an end to the conflict delivered to both sides of the Geneva 2 talks by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN representative leading the talks and the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria.
The message, which was given to Brahimi in mid-January before the talks, stresses the need for “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria” ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance”. It urges “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria”.
Representatives from the Syrian opposition included Sheikh Dr Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi, Islamic scholar, Dr Badr Jamous, vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr Abdul-Ahad Steifo from the Assyrian Democratic Organization, Mr Mohammad Farouk Tayfour, deputy leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Imad Eldin Rashid, president of the Syrian National Movement.
The group met for an hour and a half and then joined a press conference where Sheikh Dr Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi made a strong plea for the release of kidnapped Syrian religious and laypersons.
In the meeting Tveit invoked prayers for peace in Syria, saying that with concern for security of all Syrians, including Christians, Muslims, and people of different faiths “we hope for a ‘just peace’ in Syria, a vision to which the WCC is deeply committed”.
We as religious leaders have to carry the hope that miracles are possible and that there will be peace,” he said. “If we are not doing this, who will?”
Dr Tveit said that “we must work together for a future for Syria, where equal rights, stability, democracy and freedom for religion and expression for all” can prevail.
The WCC and its member churches “believe we must work together as religious communities and leaders,” he said.
In discussions with the WCC staff members, the representatives of Syrian opposition each shared their perspectives on the current challenges of the dialogue process, as well as efforts aimed at defusing the conflict.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi, in his response affirmed the role of religious leaders in supporting efforts for peace, stability and democracy in Syria.
He said that all communities, regardless of their religious affiliations in Syria have suffered.
Yaaqubi, along with others in the group, highlighted the significance of common heritage of both Muslims and Christians, which he said has historical roots spanned over centuries in Syria and the Middle East.
On behalf of the members of the group, he also strongly condemned the kidnapping of the nuns of the Ste Thecla Convent in Maaloula, and the two Orthodox bishops from Aleppo last year in Syria.
In a press conference following the meeting, Yaaqubi made a strong statement on the kidnappings, “calling upon all Islamic militants to immediately release all those who are unjustly detained against their will, especially the innocent bishops, nuns and monks”. He emphasized that this sort of activity does not reflect the values of Islam.
In April 2013 Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch were kidnapped near Aleppo while returning from a humanitarian mission. Later in December 2013, 12 nuns were also kidnapped.
During the press conference Dr Tveit emphasized that the WCC condemns all violence perpetrated against the Syrian people, repeating that their suffering has to end.
* World Council of Churches: http://www.oikoumene.org/en
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria