Besieged civilians in Syria call on Pope Francis to raise their plight in meeting with Putin

Civilians currently trapped inside Syria’s besieged Idlib province have urged Pope Francis to shed light on their plight and address the issue directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Vatican on 4 July.

Three million civilians have been living under heavy bombardment by Russia and Syrian government forces and clashes between government and opposition groups since the last escalation started in late April. 300,000 have already been displaced. Ordinary Syrians are today trying to send a message to the Pope about these inhumane and unbearable circumstances under siege – including the indiscriminate and systematic targeting of residential areas, hospitals, ambulances, and schools – and to highlight these dangers to the outside world that keeps failing to put an end to their suffering.

Today, civilians held banners quoting biblical passages linked to the need to stop the ongoing carnage in Syria’s northwest. One banner reads, “I was sick and you took care of me (Mat 25:36) – Pope Francis, our hospitals are being bombed.” Another says, “I was homeless and you gave me a room (Mat 25:35) – Pope Francis, we have no homes to go back to, they have been destroyed.” They hope that their symbolic action will move Pope Francis to discuss with President Putin the immediate need to shield civilian targets and medical facilities from the escalating military campaign, given the Russian military’s predominant role in backing and defending Syrian government attacks.

Amid a growing sense of hopelessness and despair, civilians said they’ve never witnessed such ferocious attacks on Idlib in the past eight years. However, some feel that the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and President Putin provide a moment of hope. They are raising their voice and calling on Pope Francis to publicly address the humanitarian situation inside the province, and to push towards the alleviation of the inhumane suffering of the local population.

Idlib, which has been the subject of the demilitarization agreement reached between Turkey and Russia in September 2018, has witnessed an upsurge in violence since late April as Russian-backed Syrian government forces intensified their military assault on the province and clashed with opposition groups on multiple fronts. The escalation has so far killed several hundred civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands, plunging the area into a humanitarian catastrophe.