ALEPPO, Syria — A Catholic bishop in Aleppo has warned that U.S. and foreign military action in the war-torn country could ignite a global war, making the “tragic situation” in Syria much worse.
“The only road to peace is dialogue,” said Bishop Antoine Audo. “War will not take us anywhere.”
“People live in anguish, not knowing what awaits them, and this has been happening during the two years of conflict,” he told the Missionary International Service News Agency.
The Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, one of the cities worst affected by the turmoil, is also the president of Caritas Syria.
He spoke amid escalating international discussions of how to respond to reported chemical-weapons attacks in the country.
On Aug. 26, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry alleged it was “undeniable” that chemical weapons had been used in an attack on civilians in the suburb of Ghouta, outside of Damascus, five days earlier. Kerry blamed the government of President Bashar Assad, but the Assad government has accused the rebels of killing 355 civilians in Ghouta with chemical agents. U.N. inspectors are visiting the site to determine what happened, but the U.S. has been readying a military response.
Assad’s Syrian government has been locked with rebel groups, including al Qaeda allied forces, in a two-year civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
“I have seen thousands of civilian victims of the violence,” Bishop Audo said. “We are in need of someone who brings us hope for peace, not a new charge of hatred.”
He said that “if there is will, dialogue is always possible, even in the darkest situations.”
“Even in Syria there are alternatives to war,” he said.
Catholic leaders familiar with the situation in Syria told the National Catholic Register in July that they wanted all sides to come to the table and negotiate a peace. But U.S. military aid to the rebels, they warned, could empower the Islamists, who dominate the rebel movement, to wipe out the Church in Syria.
In a separate interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Audo warned, “If there were a military intervention, in my opinion, this means world war.”
He echoed Pope Francis’ call for “true dialogue between the different parties of the conflict in order to find a solution.”
The “clear” and “direct” words of Pope Francis “give confidence to all of us who are now here, especially in Aleppo, in a very difficult situation,” Bishop Audo said. “The Holy Father’s message is very appreciated by a large part of the population.”