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Bishop accused of supporting ‘war criminal’ defends Assad meeting

Middle East and North Africa

Bishop accused of supporting ‘war criminal’ defends Assad meeting

Christian leaders meet President Bashar al-Assad

Christian leaders meet President Bashar al-Assad

An Anglican bishop has hit back at allegations that he and a delegation of Christian leaders have supported a ‘mass murderer’ by meeting with Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria.

Bishop Michael Nazi-Ali said his visit was a ‘pastoral’ one to the people of Syria, “especially Christians who have suffered so much at the hands of jihadist extremists.” Bishop Nazir-Ali’s delegation included two members of the British House of Lords, Baronness Cox and Lord Hylton, as well as the Rev Andrew Ashdown, an Anglican Vicar.

Critics said that while their intention may have been to highlight the plight of Christians in Syria, the group had given legitimacy to a ‘war criminal’.

In a statement to the  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/09/we-must-engage-with-bashar-al-assad-if-there-is-to-be-regime-cha/Daily Telegraph, Bishop Nazir-Ali hit back at extremist Islamists who dominated the armed opposition in Syria. He said that the delegation met with mainstream Muslim leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria and most of the Muslim leadership in western Aleppo. He said that these Muslim leaders should be given a voice “instead of being vilified as stooges of the regime.”

Bishop-Michael-Nazir-AliDefending some of the efforts of the Assad regime he said that the Syrian government was supporting ‘impressive’ reconstruction work of devastated towns and villages. He said that moderate opposition groups felt no love towards Assad, but “emphatically opposed… the violent revolution which extreme Islamism had brought to their country.”

He defended the meeting with Assad, stating that the choice is not between “angels and monsters but between one kind of monster and another.

“With all my experience, I cannot say that he is the worst of all,” reflected Bishop Nazir-Ali. He said of the meeting that the Christian delegation repeatedly questioned the President on the use of barrel bombs, torture in prisons and attacks on hospitals.

He said: “One of the problems with allegations of government abuse is that they often come from unverifiable sources, within rebel held territory or from exiles outside the country. They should be treated with caution,” he wrote.