In striking language, Pope Francis said Wednesday that those responsible for the bombardment of Aleppo—conducted for days by Syrian and Russian forces—will be called to a reckoning before God for their actions.
After his weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square Wednesday, the Pope launched a universal appeal for the protection of Syrian civilians, calling it an “urgent and imperative duty” to defend non-combatants from the deadly air assault.
“My thoughts turn once again to the beloved and battered Syria,” Francis said. “Dramatic news continues to reach me about the fate of the people of Aleppo, with whom I feel united in suffering through prayer and spiritual union.”
The Pope seemed especially concerned for the numerous civilian casualties that have resulted from the daily airstrikes, noting that defenseless people—“children, the elderly, the sick, the young”—have been dying from the shelling. Reports suggest that as many as 140 civilians have been killed in the Aleppo raids since last Thursday.
The Pope expressed his “deep sorrow and heartfelt concern,” but also appealed to the consciences of all those responsible for the bombardment, warning that they “will have to answer to God!”
Though he never mentioned Syrian and Russian forces by name, the intent and scope of his words was lost on no one. The Pope spoke of Aleppo as a “battered city” while urging a response from the international community.
The recent airstrikes have met with nearly universal condemnation.
Following the Pope’s statement Wednesday, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said that the deliberate bombardment of two Aleppo hospitals is a “war crime,” and that the situation has become “worse than a slaughterhouse.”
Ban said that despite a UN Security Council resolution on the protection of healthcare personnel in areas of armed conflict, attacks in Syria and Yemen had continued. “In Syria, the carnage continues and nobody is spared,” he said. “The world has let them down; we let them down,” he added in reference to Syrian civilians.
“We must hold those responsible to an accounting,” he said.
For nearly a week, Syrian and Russian armed forces have carried out an intense bombing campaign on areas held by insurgents in the east of Aleppo, reducing many buildings to dust and killing scores of civilians.
Earlier this week, Britain’s Ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, said that “it is difficult to deny that Russia has partnered with Syria to conduct war crimes,” demanding that Syria be referred to the international criminal Court.
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