Religious leaders urge Syrian ceasefire

Joint statement issued ahead of Geneva II talks

Christian leaders have joined with the Holy See in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Syria ahead of crucial talks in Switzerland between the warring sides.

As international negotiators prepared to gather for the Geneva II talks on January 22, the World Council of Churches hosted a meeting of religious representatives at its own Geneva headquarters, resulting in a joint statement which urged negotiators to “pursue an immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria”.

Offering a series of guidelines for those attempting to end the conflict which is now in its third year, the statement insists that “Geneva II must be transformed into a peace-building process, responding to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian people”.

Among those guidelines, which stresses that peace-building efforts must be “Syrian led”, was a call for “the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional nature and tradition of Syrian society [to be] be preserved”.

“As Christians we speak with one voice in calling for a just peace in Syria.

“To achieve this peace, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with Muslim sisters and brothers, with whom we share a common history along with spiritual and social values. We seek to work for national reconciliation and healing through building trust.”

Several attempts have been made by international powers, notably Russia and the United States to get the opposing sides in Syria to the negotiating table.

These have been complicated by a demand from President Bashar al Assad that western powers halt aid to rebels before any talks
and disputes among rebel groupings about which of them is the legitimate representative body for negotiating peace. Some of the more fundamentalist groups have rejected any negotiations outright.

The main opposition body, the Syrian National Coalition, only voted on January 18 to attend Geneva II, following days of dispute among members.