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From Rome, Calls for Peace as Aleppo Burns and Security Council Lags

The Pope invites UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura to the Vatican for an appeal on the situation in Aleppo

pope francis staffan de mistura

Staffan De Mistura with Pope Francis in the Vatican (Photo CNS)

Pope Francis and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura have called for an end to the recent airstrikes that have reigned down on the city of Aleppo. At least 250,000 people are trapped in what was once Syria’s largest city, the latest surge of violence part of a nearly six-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced over half of the country’s population

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, joined Pope Francis at the Vatican in an appeal to stop the renewed wave of violence that has hit Syria, most recently in the form of devastating airstrikes in the city of Aleppo.

Speaking at a Vatican symposium Thursday on the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq, de Mistura told those gathered that, “You can’t bomb your way to peace in Syria.”

“We are in a very critical moment,” de Mistura, who holds Italian and Swedish citizenship, told AFP. “It is the breakdown of an agreement which was the beginning of a new phase.”

De Mistura was referring to the collapse of a cease-fire brokered by the US and Russia earlier this month, which ended after Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, sought to recapture the rebel-held Eastern Aleppo through a series of airstrikes.

Approximately 250,000 people are currently trapped in what was once Syria’s largest city, the latest surge of violence part of a nearly six-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced over half of the country’s population. UN aid has not been able to reach Aleppo since early July.

De Mistura welcomed the support of the Pope, saying “it is so essentially urgent to have the voice of people with the moral authority of the pope [to speak] about the fact that there is no military solution” to the crisis.

Pope Francis has strongly and repeatedly advocated for peace in Syria. On Wednesday, speaking to large crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the Catholic leader condemned the airstrikes and called on all parties to “commit themselves with all their strength to protect civilians” and that “those responsible for the bombings…will one day will have to account to God.”

The Pope called Aleppo an “already martyred city, where everybody is dying – children, old people, sick people, young people.”

Deputy UN Special Envoy for Syria, Ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, also drew attention to the dire medical situation there, where two hospitals closed on Wednesday after being heavily shelled. “There are now no more than 35 doctors covering a population of at least 275,000,” said Ramzy at a Thursday morning press conference in Geneva.

According to UNICEF, in Eastern Aleppo, over the past five days nearly 100 children have been killed and 223 wounded; over 200 civilian adults have also been wounded. Justin Forsyth, the agency’s executive director, said, “the children of Aleppo are trapped in a living nightmare.”

At UN Headquarters in New York, the UN Security Council gathered the same day to discuss a draft resolution to re-establish a ceasefire, which would include delivering humanitarian aid, re-establishing a US-Russian-brokered truce, and grounding Syrian planes, as well as a monitoring system that would oversee the agreement’s implementation.

During his briefing of the Council, Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said Aleppo is “well into its terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed in Syria.”

O’Brien called out the 15 members for their continued stagnation. “It is time this Council stops tolerating the utter disregard for the most basic provisions of international humanitarian law.”

This conflict “is the direct result of inaction – be it through unwillingness or inability – by the international community, including most notably those present in this chamber,” the OCHA head said. “Unless something happens in the next day or two, we are facing in Eastern Aleppo, the greatest humanitarian crisis yet reached in Syria.”

Earlier in the day, François Delattre, the Ambassador to the UN from France, the country that proposed the draft resolution, said, “We must, and will, spare no effort and will leave no stone unturned to try to impose a cease-fire in Aleppo, and all that goes with it.”

Delattre gave no indication of when a resolution would be agreed upon, telling press “The sooner the better.”

As of Thursday evening, New Zealand’s Ambassador and Security Council President Gerard van Bohemen said he has not yet seen a draft resolution from France.

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