‘Total War’ Engulfs Aleppo as Christians Pray and Fast for Peace

Government forces and rebel groups are now engaged in a life-and-death struggle for Syria’s largest city, as civilians pay a heavy price.

(photo: Lauren Cater/CNA. )

ALEPPO, Syria — As rebel factions continue to fight Syria’s government for control of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, Christians in the battered metropolis are praying and fasting for peace to come to their homes.

“We don't know what's going to happen. We announced to all the priests, since yesterday, and we've also told the people, that we want to fast and pray the next 72 hours so that the will for peace always prevails and so that it wins over the will for war,” Father Ibrahim, a pastor in Aleppo, told Vatican Radio Aug. 9.

Rebels in the city claim to have broken the government siege of eastern Aleppo, where some 250,000 people live the rebel-held areas. They now threaten to besiege the Western half of the city, controlled by the government of president Bashar Assad. Russian and Syrian air strikes on rebel positions in the city have intensified in recent days in response.

Father Ibrahim said the situation is very difficult “because the bombardments, which are intensified at night, continue, but there are also missiles falling on the western side of the city, where we're living.”

He said Aleppo's inhabitants “are afraid, don't have electricity or water,” and “everything is expensive.”

“In recent days, two areas were evacuated and many people have slept and continue to sleep on the streets or in tents,” Father Ibrahim said.

The priest expressed his doubts that the humanitarian truce called for by the United Nations will take place. The arrival of more troops suggests “a total war,” he said.

“The army for its part wants to retake the parts [of the city] it lost in recent days, while these military groups are getting ready to advance further toward Hamdaniya and the entire western area of the city,” he said.

In the midst of this situation Father Ibrahim said the Church continues to care for the population. He added “it's a miracle” they can still distribute food packages to “thousands of needy families.”

“It's a miracle and divine providence that we bought everything before Aleppo's main street was closed off,” he reflected.

Father Ibrahim noted that he does not use the word “rebels” to refer to those fighting the Assad government “because today, as we see and hear, within the city it's more the jihadists than the rebels who are taking the helm of these military groups which are very, very diversified.”

There are several coalition of rebels in Aleppo, the largest of which is the Army of Conquest, which includes Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former name of the jihadist al-Nusra Front, which cut its official ties to Al-Qaeda in an effort to rebrand itself.

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 with demonstrations against Assad. The war has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people, and forced 4.8 million to become refugees. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.

The civil war is being fought among the Syrian government and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include the Free Syrian Army, founded by ex-Syrian military; Islamist factions, such as the Army of Conquest and the Islamic State group; and Kurdish separatists.