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Archbishop in Jerusalem offers Obama perspective on who the enemy is
JERUSALEM – At tiny St. Mark’s Church in Jerusalem’s Old City, priests chant in Syriac among smoking, golden censors. It is a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and the oldest Christian liturgy in existence.

Archbishop Mor Severios Malke Mourad oversees the Syrian Orthodox Church in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. “Syrian,” in this case, refers to a common tongue, rather than nationality, which also lends the denomination the name Syriac Orthodox Church.

Mourad’s parishioners are either fleeing their homes or trying to help crowds of refugees from other places. After almost 2,000 years of surviving both turbulence and trials, the Syrian Orthodox Church across the Middle East is threatened with rapid annihilation at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Archbishop Mor Severios Malke Mourad

Archbishop Mourad has a solution to the slaughter, but it requires the West to do something it has so far failed to do: Understand what’s really going on in Syria and who the true enemy is.

“For three years and a half our Christian people in Syria suffer very much [the] massacres that are happening there,” the archbishop explains.

Christians in Syria are caught between what Mourad calls the “fanatics” (ISIS) and the “regime,” referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration. The raging war between the fanatics and the regime has spurred almost a third of the country’s Christian population of 1.8 million to flee (as of August 2014). Most are mired somewhere in Lebanon, but some find their way to Mourad’s doorstep.

Asked which of the forces Syrian Christians prefer, Mourad didn’t hesitate: “More than 90 percent of Christians are with Assad, because in all areas controlled with the regime it is quiet and the army of Syria protects them.”

In spinning the story of Syria, many major news outlets have created an epic saga of young rebels of various faiths rising to defy the evil Assad. But the Archbishop insists the big networks had to look hard and fast to find many Christians among the rebel forces, even at the beginning.

“Most of our youth there are serving as soldiers in the Syrian Army,” Mourad says.

He cautions that the Assad government is far from perfect, but “they protect and help” the churches.

Mourad isn’t apologetic about the place of Christians in the Middle East: “Christians are the real people of Syria, there before anyone else,” he explained, pointing out the relatively recent advent of Islam, founded more than 500 years after the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in ancient Syria’s city of Antioch.

Violence has since forced many of Syria’s Christians to emigrate to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Europe and America, but it wasn’t by choice.

“Is the U.S. helping Syrian refugees much?” WND asked.

Mourad assumed the U.S. was helping through the United Nations, although he couldn’t give any examples. He voiced hope the international body would intervene on their behalf. Mourad seemed unaware of many charities on the ground in Syria itself, although they help greatly in other areas.

Mourad said he wants the world to know how cold it is in Syria this time of year, far colder than the drizzly 55 degrees in Jerusalem during his interview with WND. Yet more than a million refugees, he said, huddle under tarps in camps – many without even that comfort after massive floods struck the area.

Syrian refugee camp

“You can’t move by car – nobody can reach,” he explained, especially outside Damascus and Alleppo, Syria’s largest cities. “[ISIS forces] intercept almost everything … unless you have military presence.”

What can the West do to help?

While Pope Francis and others have consistently urged “dialogue” with ISIS, Mourad has a different take. The Archbishop urges U.S. President Barack Obama to stop weapons flow to Syria and close the country’s borders from inflowing ISIS forces.

“[Obama] knows,” Mourad said. “He can do it [with] Turkey.”

Should the West also help Assad?

“Of course,” Mourad answers. “And continue helping him outside of Syria [to stop] the fanatics.”

Mourad is open to negotiations with all groups, but only after ISIS is put down.

WND asked the Archbishop how ISIS grew so quickly to its current dimension and virulence.

“Because most of the Islamic people, they want to return to 1,000 or 500 years [ago],” he explained. “If you give them a chance … most of them want [it].”

Mourad described how even peaceable Muslims, when forced to choose between supporting ISIS or death, overwhelmingly choose to pitch with the terrorist camp. They will “oblige them,” Mourad specifies, rather than fight.

“Do you see any solution for peace with the Islamic world?” WND asked the archbishop.

“If no one supports them, and there is a strong [opposing] army, they will stop this,” Mourad said.