US and Iran escalation worries Christians in the Middle East: Enough violence and conflict

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The plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran fueled the tension of the last few days. All 176 people on board died. Canada speaks of murder, for the Iranian government it’s an accident. The US House votes to limit Trump’s war powers. For the White House it is a “ridiculous resolution”. AsiaNews speaks to Catholic leaders in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The killing of Iranian Qods force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani by US drones in Baghdad on January 3, and Tehran’s response, with the launch of 15 missiles against US targets in Iraq, concern Christians in the Middle East. The escalation of tension is also an element of concern for Pope Francis himself who, in yesterday’s speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, said that “the shadow of the conflict” between the two countries can “create the basis” for a “larger-scale” war.

The situation was further complicated by the story of the Boeing 737-800 of Ukraine International Airlines (Uia), which crashed on January 8 shortly after take-off from Tehran airport, causing the death of all 176 people on board. The hypothesis that the aircraft was shot down accidentally by an Iranian missile has made ground among western chancelleries, especially Canada, the country of origin of a large number of the victims. The incident occurred in the frantic hours in which the missile attack against the US targets in Iraq took place.

However, Tehran’s leadership strongly excludes the version and confirms the thesis of the disaster following a failure (according to initial reports) of one of the engines.

Meanwhile, in the United States a new confrontation is taking place between Congress, with a democratic majority and led by speaker Nancy Pelosi, among the most bitter opponents of US President Donald Trump, and the White House.

Overnight, the deputies approved the limitation of Trumps’ war powers against Tehran. The measure, called Iran War Powers, passed with 224 votes in favor and 194 against. The resolution will now have to pass through the Senate with a republican majority and it is quite possible that it will be rejected. The immediate reaction from the White House, which speaks of “ridiculous resolution”.

Meanwhile, Washington has sent a letter to the United Nations claiming the operation that led to Soleimani’s death was an act of “self-defense “. At the same time, the United States says they are “ready to engage in serious dialogue without preconditions” with Iran, closing the convulsive last days of violence and cross-attacks. Words that, at the moment, do not seem to be able to produce further developments in a positive sense,

On the ongoing crisis between Iran and the United States, AsiaNews has spoken to some Catholic personalities from the Middle East. Here is what they said:

Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon (Lebanon)

Everything that happens at a regional level has repercussions on Lebanon too, and the results will not be good. Our country, like others in the region, represents a weak pole and is among the first to pay the bill for the powerful when an international crisis arises. The poorest will suffer the greatest consequences, and in Lebanon today, we have many who seek our help even just to feed themselves.

It must also be said that it is not the first time that this has happened, just look at the history of the Middle East, just consider what has happened in Iraq, Syria and Libya in recent years. Here too it emerges that the struggle between international powers is played out on weak countries, which are the first victims. To date we cannot say whether we will arrive at a peaceful solution, even if we hope so. We all aim for a Middle Eastern region with a peaceful future, but the problem is that something always complicates the picture and if there is no justice, there can be no peace either. We really hope that this escalation can be halted, that external interference can end because the perpetuation of the situation can have serious social and humanitarian consequences.

Archbishop Antoine Audo, Chaldean bishop of Aleppo (Syria)

We are faced with a very complicated picture and very little clarity about current events. The hope is that a path to peace can be found, that the logic of war does not prevail and this is what we expect. We are facing a complex crisis involving Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, behind which there is a struggle for power and political interests which see the United States, Russia and China in opposition, which also affects the control of gas and energy supplies. We are victims of these wars, Christians themselves pay a very high price because they struggle to find the means to defend themselves. Yet we continuously try to do everything possible to survive and bear witness of faith and peace, even in the face of new developments that can leave us with little hope. In these times of darkness, we try to stay ready but it is not easy because the tensions are many, and serious. Our people are weary, but we want to remain present and alive even in the face of an internationally terrible force that is moving towards chaos.

Rafic Greiche, President of the Media Committee of the Council of Churches of Egypt (Egypt)

Our fear is that this tense situation between Iran and the United States may give rise to a further escalation and involve Egypt directly. This prospect risks creating serious damage, also in consideration of the fact that we have achieved important objectives at the national level from an economic and tourism point of view. We pray every day for this situation to be resolved and for the prospects to improve.

Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk (Iraq)

The Iraqis hope that the violent attacks by Iran and the United States will cease and that there will be a move towards a de-escalation of tension. We have had no news of lost lives, which is why we can stop here with [Iranian] revenge. Now, let’s go back to the negotiations. My anxiety is real, because Iran and the United States are trying to regulate their opposing views on Iraqi territory and this recent escalation represents a real danger for our people.

We have grown and fed by all kinds of problems and wars. We don’t want it anymore, especially the protests of recent months in Baghdad are telling those who are with Iran or America: let us live in peace. We have had enough of wars and conflicts. Since I was born, 70 years ago, I have seen only wars, only rebellions, only revenge without peace. These events completely destroyed our nation. There is nothing left to do but pray.