Church leaders eye Syria summit with Muslims

AFP, Geneva

Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday.

Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives. (File photo: AFP)

“We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilize both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria,” WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters.

Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: “We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighboring countries.”

The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.

But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiraling fighting the plan stalled.

In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 28.

Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.

Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together in Syria for centuries, but fears are mounting for Christians as ultra-Islamists gain clout among the rebels fighting Assad.

The Christian community generally has been well-treated in the four decades since the Assad family – of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam – came to power.

That has fuelled claims by some Assad opponents that Christians support him as a group, making them targets, while he paints himself as a shield against militant Islam.

Syria’s conflict erupted after a crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011.

It morphed into a sectarian war – Sunni Muslims dominate the rebel camp – which has claimed over 100,000 lives, driven two million refugees from the country, and displaced millions more within Syria.

“All communities in Syria have a certain fear, not only the Christians, a fear for the future,” said Michel Nseir, head of the WCC’s Middle East program.

“Christians, as everybody else, are victims of this war.”

The WCC group has 345 denominations – except Roman Catholics – with a global congregation of 560 million.


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