By Robin Gomes
"Now in Aleppo everyone says: we were better off under the bombs," Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo told the Vatican’s Fides news agency. He reflected the feeling of his city on Wednesday, as the so-called "Caesar Act" sanctions by the US came into force.
The new set of measures aims to force the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop the bombardment carried out during Syria’s nine-year civil war and to halt widely documented human rights abuses.
The "Caesar Act” particularly targets companies that deal with Assad’s regime. The Syrian government and loyalist businessmen have been already targeted by US and European economic sanctions.
Suffering compounded by Covid-19
Devastated by the long war, the condition of the desperate people has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that continues taking its toll on victims within Syria’s borders.
Archbishop Tobji said, "The bomb comes suddenly and kills people around the place where it falls.” “Now, in Syria, there is real hunger, and millions of people are facing the prospect of an announced death, without possible escape routes.”
Things cannot be any worse
Syria's economy has been battered by nine years of war compounded by a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, which had served as a channel to bring dollars into government-held areas.
Archbishop Tobji lamented the collapse of the Syrian currency since the start of the civil war in 2011. The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted on the informal market, sending prices skyrocketing, shuttering shops and sparking rare anti-government protests in the country's government-held south.
At one point last week, the pound sank to 3,000 to the dollar. While the average salary remains the same at around 50,000 pounds, people just cannot survive with less than 20 dollars, the Archbishop said. Those who have money in banks in Lebanon cannot even withdraw it, due to the Lebanese financial crisis.
“Hospitals,” the Archbishop continued, “lack the necessary medicines and equipment for life-saving surgeries, such as stents.”
"If you enter into the depths of the hardships and sufferings of families, you will hear stories that make you cry.” “Things cannot be any worse," he said.
“Targeted” sanctions a lie
The so-called 'targeted' sanctions of the Caesar Act, the Maronite archbishop said, “is a lie that not even a child would believe.” He said it is clear that the goal is “to increase the suffering of population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime change”.
“But this way of acting is criminal. Putting an entire people in distress at a time like this, where there is also the spectre of the pandemic around the world is inhuman.”
The fact that the US is willing to go to any lengths to pursue its goals, “even to sacrificing millions of people, poor people and families,” Archbishop Tobji said, “is a diabolical act."