By Philippa Hitchen
As the Syrian civil war enters its eighth year this week, the humanitarian agency Save the Children has issued a new report urging the international community to push for an immediate end to the conflict.
In the report, published on Monday, Save the Children, describes the "apocalyptic" bombing campaign in Eastern Ghouta that has targeted homes, schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, forcing thousands of families to live in underground shelters. "For hundreds of thousands of children in Syria, this is the worst point of the conflict so far," the report says.
Millions of children malnourished
Of Syria's estimated 10 million children, the U.N. says 8.6 million are now in dire need of assistance, with over half of them displaced or living as refugees. Many face the daily hazards of land mines, even in areas where the conflict has died down. Most suffer from malnutrition, preventable illnesses and severe stress, living in fear of their lives.
While casualty figures vary, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented over 19,000 children killed since the conflict began in March 2011. Calls for cease-fires have been ignored, with dozens of civilians dying every day, according to recent statistics.
In an attempt to respond to the most urgent needs of the people in Syria, the Vatican’s representative Cardinal Mario Zenari on Tuesday called for financial and practical support for three Church-run hospitals in Damascus and Aleppo.
Damascus and Aleppo 'Open Hospitals'
Speaking at a press conference, the nuncio noted that Syria’s health system has been destroyed and that two thirds of its medical personnel has been killed or fled the country. Last year the cardinal launched a project called “Open hospitals”, seeking to provide basic health services for the poorest sectors of the largely Muslim population.
Pope Francis' urgent appeals for peace
The nuncio recalled Pope’s Francis’ many pleas and practical initiatives on behalf of the Syrian people over the past five years. Those include a first day of prayer and fasting for peace in 2013, a 2016 letter to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as many urgent appeals for an end to the conflict.