Appeal for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria without Foreign Interference
Report and Appeal for the International Community to Support Dialogue and Reconciliation between Syrians and their Government Rejecting outside Intervention and War
After a 10-day visit to Lebanon and Syria leading a 16-person delegation from eight countries, having been invited by the Mussalaha Reconciliation Movement, I returned hopeful that peace is possible in Syria so long as all outside interference ends and Syrians are allowed to solve their own problems within their right to self-determination.
An appeal to end all violence and for Syrians to be left alone from outside interference was made by all we met during our visit. We have tried to forward it to the international community in our Concluding Declaration.
We visited refugee camps and affected communities and met with religious leaders, combatants, government representatives, opposition delegations, perpetrators and victims in Lebanon and Syria.
1. Visits to refugee camps: In Lebanon we visited several refugee camps hosted by Lebanese or Palestinian communities. A woman said, “Before this conflict started we were happy and had a good life (there is free education, free healthcare, subsidies for fuel, in Syria ,) and now we live in poverty”. Her daughter and son-in-law (a pharmacist and engineer), standing on a cement floor in a Palestinian refugee camp, with not even a mattress, told us that this violence had erupted to everyone’s surprise, spreading so quickly that they were still in shock. Fully armed foreign fighters who came to Homs took over their homes, raped their women and killed young males who refused to join their ranks; the people fled in terror. They said these foreign fighters were from many countries: Libyans, Saudis, Tunisians, Chechens, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Emiratis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Turkish, Europeans, Australians; such gangs are financed and trained by foreign governments. They attach suicide vests around peoples’ bodies threatening to detonate if they don’t do what they are told. A lady refugee asked me, ‘When can we go home?’ To my great delighted a few days later in Damascus I met a young woman working in a government programme that assists refugees in returning to Syria. To date, over 200 have returned according to her.
Religious and government officials have called on people not to flee Syria. It is hoped that many will heed the admonition, for after seeing so many refugees living in tents and being exploited in so many ways, including sexually, I believe the best solution is stability in Syria so that people may feel safe and stay in the country. If refugees continue to flee Syria surrounding countries could be destabilized, causing a domino effect in the entire Middle East.
Many have fled to refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon; these countries are trying hard to manage such huge influx of Syrian refugees and feel overwhelmed by their great numbers. The UNHCR’s official figure is of one million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have been informed in our meetings that Turkey invites Syrian refugees into the country and then forbids them to return. It is documented that Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan are mistreated. Young Syrian refugee girls are sold for forced marriage in Jordan. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports: “We know that more than 4 million Syrians are displaced inside their own country, living in great need.”
A Syrian Red Crescent representative told us that they are free to do their work throughout Syria, along with other NGOs and in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs. Under dire circumstances they are doing their best to provide services to as many people as possible. However, there is great shortage of funds for them to cope with the humanitarian tragedy of refugees and internally displaced persons. The economic sanctions, as was the case in Iraq, are a source of great hardship for people in general; all those whom we met called for their lifting, as did our delegation. These inhuman US-led sanctions, which target the Syrian population for purely political reasons, have only one aim, to achieve regime change.
2- Hospitals: We saw many people injured by shootings, bombings and armed attacks. A moderate Sunni Iman told me how he was abducted by jihadists who tortured him, cut off his ear, tried to cut his throat, sliced his legs and left him for dead. He said if he goes back to his mosque they will slaughter him. He told us, “These men are foreign fighters, jihadists from foreign countries, well armed, well trained, with a lot of money; they are in our country to destroy it. They are not true Muslims but religious extremists and fundamentalists terrorizing, abducting, killing our people“. Government spokespeople also confirmed that they captured and have in detention foreign fighters from 29 countries, including Chechens, Iraqis, and many others. The minister of health showed us video documentary depicting terrible killings by jihadists and the terror they cause slaughtering medics, health officials and destroying medical infrastructure and equipment belonging to the Syrian state, all of which makes it extremely difficult to answer the needs of the population.
3- Meeting with Opposition: Our delegation participated in an open forum with representatives of opposition parties. A political opponent, who had been in prison for 24 years under the Assad regime, and has been out for 11 years, wants political change with more than 20 other internal opposition components, but without outside interference and the use of violence. We met with ‘armed’ opposition people in a local community who said they had accepted the government’s offer of amnesty and were working for a peaceful way forward. One man told me he had accepted money from jihadists to fight but had been shocked by their cruelty and the way they treat fellow Syrian Muslims; he now considers them not real Muslims. He said foreign jihadists want to take over Syria; they don’t want to save it.
On May 10th some members of our delegation headed for Homs invited by the opposition community of the city of Al Waar, where displaced families from Baba Amro, Khalidiyeh and other foreign fighters’ strongholds seek refuge. They saw the conditions of this city, which is studying a Pilot Project for Reconciliation and Peaceful Reintegration between this community and the surrounding non jihadist-held communities (Shia and Alawites) with whom was signed, 15 days ago, an agreement of non belligerence under the auspices of Mussalaha.
4 – Meeting with Government Officials: Our delegation visited and spoke at the Parliament and also with the Governor, Prime Minister and seven other Ministers. We were given details of a new Constitution and political reforms being implemented, as well as plans for the 2014 elections. Government ministers admitted that they had made mistakes in being slow to respond to legitimate demands for change from the civil society but these were now being addressed. We were told that when the demonstrations for change started they were peaceful, but they quickly turned into bloodshed when armed men started killing soldiers. At first soldiers were unarmed. But when people started demanding protection the military responded — to their defence and also in self defence.
When we enquired from the Prime Minister about allegations that the Syrian government had used Sarin Gas, he told us that as soon as allegations came from Aleppo that this gas had been used, his government invited immediately the UN to come and investigate, but they heard nothing from them. More recently however, High Commissioner Carla Del Ponte, a UN investigator, confirmed that it was the jihadists, not Syrian government, that used Sarin Gas. At the meeting with the Justice Minister we requested that a list of 72 nonviolent political dissidents currently detained be released. He said that, after checking if those listed were indeed nonviolent political dissidents, he would, in principle, agree with their release. He also informed us they they do not implement the death penalty and it is hoped that when things settle in Syria they will move to have the death penalty abolished. We also asked the Justice Minister (an international lawyer) about human rights abuses by the Syrian government, namely the artillery shelling into no-go areas being held by jihadists and armed opposition. He accepted those facts but alleged that the government had a duty to clear these areas. We suggested there was a better way to deal with the problem than artillery shelling but he insisted that the government had responsibility to clear the areas of armed invading forces and this was the way they were doing it
The Ministers and the Governor said that President Assad was their president and has their full support. There were many people we spoke to who expressed the same sentiments. However, some young people said they support the opposition but in order to protect the unity of Syria from outside destruction, they will support the government and President Assad until the election next year; then they will vote for the opposition. They said the Doha Coalition in Qatar does not represent them and that nobody outside of Syria has the right to remove President Assad. Only the Syrian people, through next year’s elections. Journalists in Syria are also in great danger from the religious extremist/fundamentalists, and during my visit to a television station a young journalist told me how his mother was killed by jihadists, showing me his arm where he had been shot and almost killed.
5- Meeting with religious leaders: We attended in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus a prayer gathering led by the Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic, Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun and the Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham with the delegate of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi, and clerics of all traditions. The ecumenical assembly prayed for peace and unity in Syria and for non-interference from outsiders. They stressed that the conflict in Syria is not a religious conflict, as Muslims and Christians have always lived together, and they are, (in spite of living with suffering and violence much of which is not of their own making), unified in their wish to be a light of peace and reconciliation to the world. The Patriarch said that from the Mosque and Christian churches goes out a great movement of peace and reconciliation and asked both those inside and outside Syria to reject all violence and support the people in this work of dialogue, reconciliation and peacemaking.
The Muslim and Christian spiritual leaders are very aware that if the religious extremists/fundamentalists gain momentum and control Syria, the future of those who do not support them, like moderate Muslims, Christians, minorities and other Syrians are in great danger. Indeed the Middle East could loose its precious pluralistic social fabric with the Christians, like in Iraq, being the first to flee the country. This would be a tragedy for all concerned in this multi-religious, multi-cultural secular Syria, once a light of peaceful conviviality in the Arab world.
Based on many reports in the mainstream media and on our own evidences I can stress that the Syrian state and its population are being victimized by a proxy war led by foreign countries and directly financed and backed mainly by Qatar, which has imposed its views on the Arab League. Turkey, parts of the Lebanese opposition and some Jordanian authorities offer a safe haven to a diversity of jihadist armed groups, each with its own agenda, recruited from many countries. Bands of jihadists armed and financed from foreign countries invade Syria through Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon’s porous borders in an effort to destabilize Syria. There are an estimated 50,000 foreign jihadist fighters terrorizing Syria. Those death squads are destroying systematically the Syrian state infrastructures (electricity, oil, gas and water plants, high tension pylons, hospitals, schools, public buildings, cultural heritage sites and even religious sanctuaries). Moreover, the country is overwhelmed with snipers, bombers, agitators, bandits. They use aggression and Sharia laws and rules hijacking the freedom and dignity of the Syrian population. They torture and kill those who refuse to join them. They have strange religious beliefs which make them feel comfortable even perpetrating the cruellest acts. It is well documented that many of these terrorists are permanently under the influence of stimulants like Captagon. The general lack of security unleashes the terrible phenomenon of abductions for ransom or for political pressure. Thousands of innocent victims are missing, among them the two Bishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, plus many priests and Imams.
UN and EU economic sanctions and a severe embargo are pushing Syria to the edge of social collapse. Unfortunately the international media network is ignoring those realities and is bent on demonizing, lying, destabilizing the country and fuelling more violence and contradiction.
In summary: the war in Syria is not a civil war, as depicted, but a proxy war being waged by more powerful countries with interests in the region, with serious breaches of international and humanitarian international laws. The protection of the foreign armed fighters by the most powerful countries provides an unaccountability that gives them confidence to perpetrate all sorts of cruel deeds against innocent civilians with impunity. War conventions are not respected incurring in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During our visit to Syria our delegation was met with great kindness by everyone, and I offer to each one who facilitated and hosted us my most sincere feelings of gratitude. We bore witness that the Syrian people have suffered very deeply and continue to do so. The entire population of 23 million people are under tremendous threat of continued infiltration by foreign terrorists. Many are still stunned by the horrors and suddenness of this violence and worry that their country will be attacked and divided by outside forces, being all too aware that geopolitical forces are at work to destabilize Syria for political control, oil and resources. A Druze leader said, ‘If westerners want our oil – both Lebanon and Syria have oil reserves – let us negotiate for it, but do not destroy our country to take it’. In Syria memories of next door Iraq’s destruction by US/UK/NATO forces are fresh in peoples’ minds, including in the minds of the 1.5 million Iraqis, many of them Christians, who fled the invasion and occupation and were given refuge by the Syrian government.
The greatest hope comes from Mussalaha, a non-political movement from all sectors of Syrian society that has been working in teams throughout the country, using dialogue to build peace and reconciliation. Mussalaha mediates between armed groups and security forces, helping with the release of many who have been abducted. It brings together all parties to the conflict for dialogue and practical solutions. It was this movement that hosted us, under the leadership of Mother Agnes-Mariam, Superior of Saint James’ Monastery, supported by the Patriarch Gregory III Laham, head of the Catholic Hierarchy of Syria (under Pope Francis I).
This great civil community movement, helping with the peace process and the national reconciliation from the ground up, will, if given space, time, and non-interference from outside, bring peace to Syria. They recognize that there must be an unconditional, all inclusive political solution, with compromises. They are confident that this is happening at many levels of society and is the only way forward for Syrian peace.
I support this national reconciliation process which, many Syrian believe, is the only way to bring Peace to SYRIA and the entire Middle East. I, myself, am committed to this peaceful process and hope that the international community, religious and political leaders, as well as persons of good will will help Syria to bypass violence and prejudice and anchor in a new era of social peace and prosperity. Syria, at the heart of the cradle of civilizations, has an enormous spiritual heritage. Let us strive to establish a non war zone and proclaim it an OASIS of Peace for the Human Family.
Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate. Spokesperson for Mussalaha International Peace delegation to Lebanon/Syria, 1-11 May, 2013.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. See: www.peacepeople.com.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 May 2013.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Appeal for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria without Foreign Interference, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
2 Responses to “Appeal for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria without Foreign Interference”
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article:
- Inequality and Democracy
- Nobel Peace Prize 2024: Too Fast and Premature, IPB!
- NATO Fails to Reduce Nuclear Risks at Vilnius Summit
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA:
- How Arab Leaders Betrayed Islam and Defied the Logic of Political Change, Peace and Security
- The Real Reasons the Derna Dam in Libya Broke
- The Saudi-Iran Détente and Its Regional Implications
SYRIA IN CONTEXT: