After eight years, the city’s international airport reopened to flights. The reopening of the highway to the capital has been marked with street celebrations. Archbishop Audo sees “positive” signs, but stresses the importance of reconstruction, territorial integrity and international support. Christians want to contribute to reconstruction.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – “Change is in the air” in Aleppo as people “seem to show greater confidence” following the advance of the Syrian army, which is now in “full control of the highway that connects the city to Damascus,” said Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo.
The prelate, who is a former president of Caritas Syria, noted that control of the crucial road, the reopening of the airport and the flight of the last jihadis are “positive signs”.
In the city, “parties and celebrations are taking place in the streets and squares; an atmosphere of joy can be felt everywhere.” The feeling of change, he emphasises, “is real. Now it will be essential to speed up reconstruction.”
Using the roads “is a fundamental step in that direction.” But “we are still waiting to see the end of the war across the country, the rediscovery of its unity and territorial integrity”, and the “departure of all foreign armies”.
Aleppo, Syria’s old economic and commercial capital, was fought over for years until it was liberated in December 2016. Opposition groups and jihadi militias were still close enough that they could shell the city, using chemical weapons as well.
Recently, the Syrian government announced the liberation of the region to the west of the city after eight years, and the reopening of the international airport, which was celebrated with the arrival of the first plane from the capital.
“Some planes landed yesterday; others, today; in a few weeks, regular flights will be possible. All this provides great hope for change. Generally speaking, there is greater confidence, despite the still bad economic situation.”
Aleppo is going through “a new stage, but for us it is not yet the end of the war” because the Turkish army and extremist groups “are a few kilometers from us” in the Idlib area.
With any luck, “international aid can help Syria truly regain its unity and freedom,” a hope shared by “Christians who, like all other citizens, are happy with the latest developments in the city.”
At the same time, explained the prelate, “we hope change can give even more confidence and encourage people to stay and rebuild. This is even more so for Christians who, despite their small number, want to help rebuild the future.” The main difficulties are economic, such as the near impossibility of transferring money.
“Starting again will be difficult without help” from the world community and, from this point of view, “it is always good to feel the closeness of Pope Francis who has never stopped speaking out” for Syria and its people.
The pontiff “prays so much for us and really makes everyone feel how important Syria is, including for regional stability in the Middle East.”
“Moreover, the Christian presence is important as testimony of the Christian role in the region and in view of a relationship (of dialogue) with Muslims.”
Lastly, Bishop Audo calls on Christians to “Pray for peace and stability in the region, for the protection of Syria and the Christian presence in the region, because, in this context, not only are economic and political interests at stake, but so is very essence of our community.”