By John Pontifex
Jihadists may be to blame for cutting off essential water and electricity supplies in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, according to a local bishop who fears for the lives of those affected.
Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that most of the city—which is undergoing persistent bombardment—have had no electricity for five months and at present have no water, either.
The bishop said these shortages were the result of targeted attacks and not just collateral damage as a result of the conflict.
He said: “I don’t know who – perhaps it was the jihadist groups – but they cut the electricity and the water, too. The whole population of Aleppo is affected by the lack of water and electricity.”
Bishop Khazen went on to he describe how extremists were behind the ongoing bombing of various areas of the city, including the Christian quarter. He said: “For the last 20 days we have been under bombardment, almost daily bombing, that is destroying many houses, many apartments, and causing many, many deaths.
“Every day, there are four or five deaths – some days as many as 10 are killed. And all this is the work of jihadist groups.”
Christian buildings have been targeted as part of the barrage that has affected all parts of the city. Bishop Khazen added: “Nearly all our churches are damaged and some of them are completely destroyed.”
“A few days ago, the Armenian Protestant church was badly damaged, and five days ago our Roman Catholic church was damaged, along with the pastoral center.”
The prelate charged that the continuing bombing was the work of Islamist extremists.
He said: “In the city these jihadist groups are occupying some quarters about a half– perhaps even two-thirds, of the city.”
Bishop Khazen described how badly the continuing bombardments were affecting those still living in Aleppo. He said: “The people are really very, very afraid because of this bombing. They just hope to see the end of it.”
“Just the other day a student, a little boy of about 13 years old asked me ‘Why do I have to study? I am going to die’ – so you understand how terrible things are here.”
Bishop Khazen added: “We have daily emigration. People are leaving the city every day.” The bishop said that, while there were no exact figures, at least 70 percent of the Christians had left the city since the beginning of the fighting.
He added: “We hope the ceasefire will work. But there are many, many groups affiliated top Al Quaeda or ISIS, and we think they will not observe this ceasefire.”
He continued: “Russia and others are pushing for negotiations, and many of the Syrians want this negotiation to succeed. But, as you know, we have thousands upon thousands of foreign fighters in the country.”
He said that despite this, Christian communities in Aleppo still “have hope – hope for us is like faith and charity – we cannot live without hope.”
“God is almighty, God is our father, and remember in the Old Testament how He saved a remnant of the people – this is what we hope for, too.”
Destruction in the Christian quarter of Aleppo (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.