What’s the story?
After years of bombardment, the Syrian city of Aleppo is now a decimated wasteland, and the focal point of global tensions. And while rebel forces have finally been defeated by the President Assad’s Russian-backed regime, attempts at a total ceasefire have so far failed to hold firm. Meanwhile, stories and images emerge daily of unspeakable civilian horror within the city’s crumbling walls.
The battle for Aleppo has been raging since 2012, the focal point of the now long-running Syrian civil war which has caused millions of people to flee the ravaged country. It began when anti-government rebels targeted officials with car and suicide bombs, and escalated as fighters began to gather there for prolonged offensives against President Assad’s regime.
Assad struck back, and hard, but the rebellion has proved difficult to quash. As fighters on both sides dug in, atrocities began to be regularly reported on both sides. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, including many children, have become trapped within the city, and have frequently become the unintended victims of the conflict around them.
Four years later, and with casualties now numbering over 30,000 the battle is now effectively over, but attempts to enact a total ceasefire had – at time of writing – failed. As President Assad continues to push for the total submission of the rebel forces, attempts to evacuate civilians have so far proved unsuccessful.
Aleppo itself is damaged almost beyond repair; images from the region beggar belief in the scale of the devastation they reveal. Yet the conflict has also had wider implications, particularly due to the involvement of Russia, whose army provided the firepower which eventually subdued the rebels. As a result of Russian involvement, other international response has been delicate and ineffective, with foreign governments (including the US and UK) seemingly unwilling to engage in a dispute which might find them on the opposite side to Vladimir Putin. As a result many countries – much like their citizens – have felt paralysed by events in Aleppo; fully aware that unspeakable horror was being perpetrated there, but unable – or unwilling – to step up and help.
What have others been saying?
Christian Today’s Mark Woods pulled no punches by writing that the global community should feel a sense of shame over events in the Syrian city.
Madeline Davies provided a helpful list of Christian responses to the unfolding tragedy in Syria on the same site.
The BBC reported on the devastating prospects facing Syria’s Christian community, one of the oldest in the world.
#1 – PRAYING FOR SYRIA
There are many ways that Christians can respond to the humanitarian crisis – and injustices – in Syria: giving and campaigning among them. Fundamentally though, we are called to pray; to intercede for a hurting world. As Paul writes to Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2 v 1, my emphasis). Some ideas for what to pray are listed below; ultimately it matters that we demonstrate our commitment to those who are suffering in persistent prayer. Partly that’s because prayer truly changes situations, and partly it’s because by prioritising them daily in our own personal lives, we ensure that the Christian community does not allow those in Aleppo to become forgotten.
#2 – CARING FOR REFUGEES
Truly understanding the horrors being perpetrated in Syria can help those concerned about immigration issues to realise their social responsibility to those fleeing the country. The Bible contains plenty of references to this subject too, with God telling Israel to take care of the alien, since they were themselves aliens in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10: 17-19), and to treat the ‘sojourner’ as a native (Leviticus 19: 33-34). But if that all feels a bit too Old Testament, Jesus says much the same thing in Matthew 25: 35-40: ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Points for prayer
- Pray for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Aleppo, which results in an end to the continued loss of life.
- Pray for the future of Aleppo, that the international community would provide the assistance necessary to rebuild this ancient city.
- Pray for wisdom for those negotiating long-term peace.
- Pray for God’s justice to be delivered, and that those responsible for war crimes would face the appropriate consequences.
- Pray for President Putin of Russia, that he would stand against injustice within his own army, and be a force for good in the international community.
- Pray for the millions of scattered Syrians, a few of whom are now in the UK, that they would receive the food, shelter and medical attention they need.
- Pray against those who would perpetrate evil, that their hearts and minds would be changed, and that justice would roll like a river.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.