.- The Franciscans in Syria are calling upon foreign powers to stop sending arms to the country after reports that over 200 civilians have been massacred in the village of Tremseh, potentially the bloodiest single incident of the Syrian conflict so far.
“It is a tragedy, the news is confusing, truth is the first victim,” Franciscan Father Romualdo Fernandez, Director of the Ecumenical Centre of Tabbaleh, said on July 13 in Damascus.
“If foreign powers continue to arm and finance the warring parties, the war will continue and victims will increase. This is not the way of peace: the road to peace is through dialogue,” he told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
The armed revolt against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and has since claimed over 10,000 lives, according to the latest U.N. estimates.
Reports as to what happened in the village of Tremseh are conflicting. United Nations observers have confirmed that the village in the western Hama province was subject to heavy fighting, including helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery on Thursday, July 12.
Opposition activists claim that over 200 civilians were killed when the Syrian army bombarded the village followed by an attack from pro-government militiamen. The Syrian regime claims the death toll is nearer to 50 and blames “armed terrorist groups” rather than government troops for the deaths.
The village of Tremseh is predominantly Sunni Muslim but is surrounded by numerous Alawite villages, the religious sect loyal to their co-religionist President Assad.
“This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers,” said U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in a July 13 statement.
“I condemn these atrocities in the strongest possible terms. It is yet another reminder of the nightmare and the horrors Syrian civilians are being subjected to.”
Annan will now travel to Moscow for a July 16 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this week the Kremlin confirmed it would continue to honor existing arms contracts with the Syrian regime, which means a ship loaded with attack helicopters will make its way to Syria.
Fr. Fernandez believes that the “high road out of this crisis” lies in talks between all sides, since “Syria needs dialogue not weapons.”
“We ask everyone to agree to sit around a table and start a confrontation, which can prevent violence, deaths, killings and massacres, which for too long have been steeping our country in blood,” he said.
But regardless of what happens in the coming months, Fr. Fernandez stated that the Franciscans “will stay in Syria, at the service of the Gospel” to help “the population who is suffering, Christians and Muslims.”
“We were there yesterday, today and we will be there tomorrow, in peacetime and in wartime, in dark times and bright times. In the certainty that the Lord wants us here and he will take care of us.”