Syria experiencing 'catastrophe'

(AP)
Syrian refugees stand near their tent at Zaatari camp near the Syrian border, near Mafraq, Jordan

The conflict in Syria is "nothing short of a catastrophe", the Bishop of Coventry has warned.

The Right Reverend Christopher Cocksworth made the comments as he hosted a debate on Syria in the House of Lords this week.

He said there was a humanitarian imperative to bring the conflict to an end as he applauded the UK Government for its efforts to orchestrate the nation's largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.

"Despite the admirable diplomatic activity of recent weeks, the humanitarian costs of the ongoing conflict in Syria show no sign of abatement," he said.

"As violence expands exponentially and cruelty abounds, no one can fail to be moved by the scale of the crisis, which is nothing short of a catastrophe.

"The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the humanitarian battle, leading others in the provision of strategic, targeted humanitarian aid.

"Such decisive, compassionate action is an important step towards healing the wounds of history that many of our past interventions in the Middle East have caused."

The bishop spoke of the need to encourage other governments to pledge contributions to the humanitarian response at the pledging conference called by the United Nations Secretary General in January 2014, and to follow through on any commitments.

"Syria needs more than the current 50 per cent return," he said. "The cost of the humanitarian aid to which we are committed is high, but it is a great deal lower than the cost of military intervention would have been."

He raised the possibility that without more international generosity and a greater commitment to honour their promises of support, countries neighbouring Syria will be less inclined to keep their borders open.

The bishop also indicated his support for the UNHCR's request to the UK to host or resettle a portion of refugees to ease the pressure on Syria's neighbours.

He encouraged UK support for local-level solutions to the Syria conflict while taking measures to prevent "the fossilisation of systems of aid into semi-permanent structures".

He acknowledged that securing a sustained and monitored cessation of hostilities in Syria would not be easy.

"However, a ceasefire is essential to improve the humanitarian situation and to allow, at the very least, a short humanitarian pause in hostilities," he said.

"Furthermore, surely a complete and immediate halt to arms and ammunition to Syria, as set out in paragraph 12 of the Geneva Communiqué, is another necessary component in the cause of peace."

Bishop Cocksworth concluded that the humanitarian costs of not reaching a political settlement would be "intolerable for the moral conscience of the world".

"Even with a political solution, the scars of this conflict will take many generations to heal. It will require the continued generosity of the international community in a sustained and strategic humanitarian commitment," he said.

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