Vatican’s U.N. Observer Cautious on Reports of Chemical Attack

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Rushed judgments in times of war and conflict, especially by the media, do not always lead to the truth and will not bring peace, said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer at United Nations agencies in Geneva, including the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Speaking to Vatican Radio on 22 August after reports of chemical attacks outside Damascus, Syria, Archbishop Tomasi said people are rightly concerned and outraged by images circulating on the Internet and on television showing dozens of dead civilians, including children.

Syrian opposition forces said more than 1,000 people died in the attacks; other activists put the number in the hundreds. If confirmed, it would be the worst reported use of chemical arms in the civil war that started in March 2011.

Syrian state television denied government forces had used poison gas and said the accusations were intended to distract a team of U.N. chemical weapons experts in Syria. The U.N. Security Council met on 22 August and said exactly what happened in the attacks needed to be clarified.

“We must not rush to judgment without having sufficient evidence,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “The international community, through the U.N. observers who are already present in Syria, can shed light on this new tragedy.”

Rushing to judgment in a situation of conflict can make matters worse, he said.

“I have the impression that the press and media don’t consider all the aspects that create these situations of violence and continuous conflict,” the archbishop said. “We saw this in Egypt with the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, where indiscriminant support for them led to more violence.”

The only way forward is dialogue, Archbishop Tomasi said.

“As the Holy Father already has underlined, violence will not bring a solution and, therefore, a dialogue must begin so that we can arrive at Geneva II [Middle East peace conference on Syria], where representatives of all parts of Syrian society can be present, explain their thinking and try to create some kind of transitional government,” he said.

The conference will fail, the archbishop said, if some groups are excluded.

And nothing will move, he said, if countries and groups continue sending weapons either to the army or to the opposition.

“You cannot create peace by giving them new weapons,” he said.

Speaking to Vatican Radio on 21 August, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio in Syria, described the images circulating on the Internet and television as “truly shocking.”

“People here are fed up” with the war, Archbishop Zenari said. “They are crying out to the international community to say, ‘Help us so that this war would end immediately. We have had enough; we can’t take it anymore. We can’t continue like this.’“

In late July, U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more than 100,000 people had been killed in the Syrian civil war. More than 1.7 million have fled to neighboring countries.

Within a week in mid-August, authorities said more than 30,000 Syrians crossed the border into northern Iraq.

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