Syrian people stunned, worried for the future

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VATICAN CITY - People in Syria are "stunned and deeply saddened and worried for the future," said Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio to Syria.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 21, the nuncio said the previous day's withdrawal of U.N. forces was "a sad blow. Three or four months ago, there was a good bit of hope for their mission, and now their departure plunges us back into this reality. The international community must not give up, it must keep trying."

U.N. military observers left Syria Aug. 20 after it was clear the cease-fire they were meant to monitor did not exist. The same day, U.S. President Barack Obama warned there would be "enormous consequences" for Syria if it began moving or using its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Archbishop Zenari declined to comment on Obama's remarks, but said, "At this moment we must require all sides in the conflict to rigorously respect international humanitarian law which, as we've seen, has gone to pieces because of the actions of both sides."

While the 17-month-old conflict began as part of the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement, Archbishop Zenari said, "Unfortunately, now there's the impression and the general fear that things have gotten out of hand."

While the international community can and must help, he said, Syrians are the ones who must ultimately decide to lay down their weapons and start negotiating.

"Finding a path to peace is a very difficult thing that will entail sacrifices; it's painful, but it's something that no one can do for the Syrians. We really need to encourage all ethnic and religious groups to find the path to peace together," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970