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Syria Christians, Muslims may meet in summit

Posted on September 20, 2013, Friday

St. Serge Armenian Orthodox church (front) and the Eastern Gate Mosque in Damascus. Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday. –AFP

Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday.

“We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilise both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria,” WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters.

Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: “We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries.”

The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.

But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiralling fighting the plan stalled.

In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 28.

Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.

Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together in Syria for centuries, but fears are mounting for Christians as ultra-Islamists gain clout among the rebels fighting Assad.

The Christian community generally has been well-treated in the four decades since the Assad family — of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam — came to power.

That has fuelled claims by some Assad opponents that Christians support him as a group, making them targets, while he paints himself as a shield against militant Islam.

Syria’s conflict erupted after a crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011.

It morphed into a sectarian war — Sunni Muslims dominate the rebel camp — which has claimed over 100,000 lives, driven two million refugees from the country, and displaced millions more within Syria.

“All communities in Syria have a certain fear, not only the Christians, a fear for the future,” said Michel Nseir, head of the WCC’s Middle East programme. “Christians, as everybody else, are victims of this war.”

The WCC groups 345 denominations — except Roman Catholics — with a global congregation of 560 million. –AFP

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