Syrian ceasefire: a shaky start

By September 14, 2016

Syria (MNN) — A ceasefire agreement in Syria went into effect on Monday evening. In the first several hours of the truce, monitoring groups reported spatterings of possible minor attacks that still took place in and around Aleppo, but no deaths.

syria-map-pixabayThe United States and Russia pieced together the ceasefire agreement, to which Syria agreed, in hopes that in a seven-day ceasefire, more humanitarian aid groups can get through to civilians. If the treaty holds, the U.S. and Russia have agreed to carry out airstrikes on terrorist groups currently causing problems for Syria.

It will take time to see if this truce continues to make the Syrian government and insurgent rebels play nice, or if the agreement will become just another failed attempt at momentary order.

Hours before the ceasefire was to start, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad threatened “to retake every piece of land from the terrorists”, an uncertain signal for the direction of the treaty.

In the 48 hours leading up to the truce, airstrikes intensified on the ground in Syria as both sides attempted to strengthen their vantage point in the last few days of ‘permitted’ violence.

Even if it only offers a moment’s reprieve, it is desperately needed. Five years since the conflict began, bombs and fighting have crippled Syria’s major cities — including Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. Christian Aid Mission’s Steve Van Valkenburg says it’s the civilians who suffer.

(Photo courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)

(Photo courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)

“Aleppo has been fought over since the beginning of the Arab Spring in Syria, and it’s been a very brutal situation for the citizens of Aleppo…. It’s been very agonizing for them. I know that early on, one medical doctor reported the average person in Aleppo had lost 35 pounds. I’m not sure if that’s true, but they have been suffering for a long time.

“A couple years ago, the ministry we were assisting there was talking about how the people would dig down and they would cut the old water lines and just try to get any kind of water, because there’s no water being pumped, and often, no electricity.”

While several NGOs have pulled out of Syria, Christian Aid Mission continues to send assistance into the war-torn country.

“What we’ve been doing is we have donors who are giving for churches inside Aleppo. So we’re able to get funds into Aleppo and then they buy the goods locally, but we’re not involved with shipping goods in. We just help ministries within Aleppo itself.”

Food and aid convoys can get through into Syria from time-to-time, but Van Valkenburg explains it can be too sporadic. Sending funds to trustworthy congregations to purchase what local goods are available has been more expedient. It also allows the indigenous Church in Syria to actively be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors.

“As different NGOs and government institutions withdraw, it just means there’s more of a vacuum and there’s more of a place where Christians can show the love of Christ and more needs. I think that now is a great time to be able to help that’s even more strategic than before, because the people are just in that much more of a tough situation and more of a hopeless situation. So now there is even a greater opportunity for Christians to show the love of Christ than there was before.”

BGR_Syrian refugees kids

(Photo courtesy of Baptist Global Response)

But why would citizens even stay in the first place if it’s gotten so dangerous?

Van Valkenburg explains, “You have people who are staying there because they have a very strong commitment to taking care of the people who are there. And there are Christian leaders who stay just because they feel loyal to those people, and they feel like somebody needs to shepherd those people, somebody needs to take care of them.”

Generosity and charitable giving have waxed and waned for organizations sending aid to Syria. Many people don’t even know the motivations or key players in the Syrian crisis — or, sadly, even want to know. And so it goes: out of sight, out of mind.

“I think it’s very true that we’re very fatigued with just hearing about tragedy, and after awhile you’re sort of sick of hearing all the bad news. Recently, people have told me over and over they’re sick of bad news, they want to hear good news. Well, sometimes in a place like Syria, there’s not a lot of good news there. Obviously, there’s great news happening in terms of people who are heroically helping others, and there’s also the good news of people who are finding the love of Christ in the midst of the crisis.”

You can stand with the people and believers still in Aleppo, and all over Syria — by kneeling for them in prayer.

“I think we can pray that they would be encouraged in the Lord and that somehow God would give them supernatural peace and joy in the midst of all their trauma and impossible situations. I think too that the encouragement that the people have there, that Christians have, is that they see themselves having a role in helping to reach out and to meet the needs of people around them and show the love of Christ.”

Click here to support aid in Syria with Christian Aid Mission!

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