PRIEST’S PLEA: Father Francis, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Homs, calls on the international community to find an immediate solution to break the 600-day regime blockade of Old Homs.
Despite an agreement on Sunday to evacuate women and children and allow aid convoys into Homs, at the time of publication, that agreement between the Syrian opposition and regime has not been implemented.
The priest, a Dutchman who has spent decades in Syria, is filmed at the alter of the Homs church, surrounded by signs highlighting the humanitarian plight of the surrounded city. One reads: “250 families are on the verge of dying due to famine.”
“I am a representative of the Christians in this area,” says Father Francis in Arabic. “We, Muslims and Christians, live in hard conditions and suffer from a lot of problems, the biggest of which is hunger. People cannot find food.” Activists say eight Homs citizens have already died of starvation.
On Sunday in Geneva, delegations from the Syrian regime and its largely exiled opposition agreed to allow the evacuation of women and children from Homs’ 13 blockaded neighborhoods effective immediately. It is the first deal the two sides have reached in nearly three years of civil war.
As negotiations continued Monday, the two sides have yet to acquiesce to the demands of Father Francis and others trapped inside blockaded Homs: The opening of a permanent aid corridor. “We love life, and love living it, and would hate to die in agony,” says Father Francis.
As the decision was announced, Homs’ residents remained skeptical. “The regime can’t be trusted, the only mechanism is military action to break this blockade and liberate the invaded neighborhoods,” Abu Mazen, a Homs activist, told Syria Direct, noting no aid had yet to reach the citizens inside.
The blockade of Old Homs began in June 2012, trapping thousands of civilians inside the city amidst heavy bombardment. No medical or food aid has entered it since late 2012.
The exact site is not clear, but Father Francis may be speaking from the Saint Mary Church of the Holy Belt in the center of Homs’, where the church’s prized artifact, the Virgin Mary’s belt, has been stolen over the course of the war.