WASHINGTON, DC — The vast majority of Syria, about 80 percent, is now safe after more than seven years of war, prompting millions of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) to return to their original homes, a Damascus-based Christian priest who leads a humanitarian aid group declared on Thursday.
His comments came during an an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, which notes that with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) mostly degraded, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and their allies now control nearly 30 percent of Syria, while the Russian- and Iranian-backed regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad has consolidated control over much of the rest of the country.
Archimandrite Dr. Alexi Chehadeh, the director-general of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, acknowledged that although “80 percent” of the country is no longer under jihadist control, the people’s humanitarian and stabilization needs have become more pronounced.
The Christian priest declared:
We have safety therefore now the needs of the people in Syria are getting more and more [sic] because people were busy with the military conflict and from the sides of rebels people getting money from certain resources to fight. But now [that] ISIS [and the Syrian al-Qaeda wing] or other brothers and sisters of those organizations are defeated, people are jobless. So, to put them in a good environment we have to find jobs for them, and this will give the society more safety.
DERD is working towards that end, noted Dr. Chehadeh.
The Christian priest acknowledged that problems do persist in Syria.
“Talking about the military conflict, in most of Syria it’s finished,” he noted. “If you’re talking about the safety of Syria as I said from this aspect of the military conflict, it’s finished, but we still have some areas in Syria especially some rural areas where we have [a] military conflict.”
The Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, primarily based in Idlib province, and ISIS in small pockets in the country remain a thorn in the side of the nation.
Nevertheless, the priest said refugees are starting to return to the country, which he described as a testament to the safety in most regions.
“Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) are coming back to their town and Syrian refugees from Lebanon, Jordan, or Europe back to Syria because of the safety. … For these people if we can do something we can support them to have a better future for their children,” the priest noted.
According to Father Chehadeh and Hudson, the faith-based DERD group is the largest humanitarian organization in Syria, providing more aid to inhabitants of the war-ravaged country regardless of ethnic or religious background.
So far, the Christian humanitarian group has helped more Muslims than any other group.
Except for Idlib province, a stronghold of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda that is partly controlled by Turkey, DERD operates across Syria, more than any other group, including the famed White Helmets. During Thursday’s event, Hudson Institute officials noted that the work of DERD far exceeds that of the White Helmets.
Father Chehadeh acknowledged that safety across Syria has allowed his organization to expand its works across nearly all corners of the country.
“[We can do work] across Syria because it’s safe,” he said. “So I invite you also not only to assist us, but to come and visit Syria, but see for yourself how the situation is.”
Father Chehadeh told Breitbart News his humanitarian organization gets help from the United States and the United Nations but not the Assad regime. Many Syrian Christians have maintained a close relationship with the Assad regime.
Bassam Ishaak, the president of the Syriac National Council, told Breitbart News Christians have cozied up to Assad for security reasons.