Christian Leaders Appeal for an End to Violence in Syria

As dozens continue to die from the ongoing conflict in Syria, prominent Christian leaders have issued their appeal for an end to the violence and the use of negotiations instead.

"Everybody is suffering in Syria because there is violence coming from every side," Catholic Archbishop Paul El-Sayeh of Lebanon told Aid to the Church in Need on Tuesday.

"It is a desperate situation. I wish everyone would sit down and negotiate," El-Sayeh said. "Problems cannot be solved by violence."

El-Sayeh added that some church leaders in the region have expressed fear that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime falls, Christians would suffer persecution due to Islamic groups filling the power vacuum.

"We should pray that those in positions of power do what they can to alleviate the suffering of the people," he said.

Meanwhile, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches sent their condolences to church leaders in Syria, saying that his group has "deep concern over the widespread violence and the indiscriminate use of force" used in the conflict.

"We pray and hope that the ongoing situation of military repression and violence will end soon, and the movements seeking democracy and freedom will achieve their goals through peaceful and nonviolent means," the group wrote. "Our prayer and hope is that the current unrest will not undermine the historical and human ties between Christians and Muslims in Syria, as well as in the entire region."

"We learn from your courage and steadfastness when you remain rooted in your faith and promote Christian ethical values in such critical moments," they added.

In August of last year, the WCC's General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit called it "urgent" that the government and rebel forces end their use of violence.

"In the wake of so many deaths, it is particularly urgent that the army and government security agencies cease the indiscriminate use of force, ensuring the citizens' rights to free assembly and expression, pursuit of political progress and basic human dignity," Tveit said. "All governments have an obligation to protect the lives and dignity of their citizens, and to protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The leaders' remarks come as the year-long violence in Syria continues to intensify as Assad's forces have tried to shell the city of Homs into submission.

Artillery fire on Wednesday reportedly killed at least 80 people including two foreign journalists. American journalist Marie Colvin, a writer for Britain's Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochilik were killed when rockets hit the house that they were staying in. Both of the journalists spent most of their career covering conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the deaths of the two journalists an "assassination" and said that the Assad's regime should come to an end.

"That's enough now," Sarkozy said. "This regime must go and there is no reason that Syrians don't have the right to live their lives and choose their destiny freely. If journalists were not there, the massacres would be a lot worse."

Assad reportedly wants to finish the Homs situation before Sunday, when a referendum will be considered that will allow for mutli-party elections to be held within 90 days. A main opposition group has boycotted the referendum and called it a cover up for Assad's alleged brutality.

Nearly 9,000 have died in Syria since the uprising began last year, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, although the numbers are nearly impossible to verify due to restrictions on foreign journalists and human rights groups.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meanwhile, has appealed to Syrian authorities to agree to a two-hour cease-fire each day to allow for critical aid to reach injured civilians.

"The situation is difficult and we are worried it is deteriorating," ICRC spokeswoman Carla Hadda told Reuters on Wednesday. "Everybody is focused on Homs but we shouldn't turn a blind eye to what is happening in other areas."

Hadda said that there is no word on whether the proposed deal will go through.

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