The Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa  (ANSA)

By Lisa Zengarini

Mar 14 2022

The head of the Latin Church in Jerusalem says the participation of fighters from Syria and the Middle East in the war in Ukraine is worrisome as it will further escalate the conflict.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has expressed deep concern over reports that 16,000 fighters from Syria and the Middle East have voluntered to fight with Russian forces in the war against Ukraine.

High risk of escalation

Speaking to “Sat2000”, the TV channel of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said he hoped the news wasn’t  true, because these foreign miltias would further  escalate the conflict.

“I hope it’s a joke, because this would mean an escalation that no one wants and, above all, it is an incomprehensible manipulation and also an attempt to involve the Middle East.”

“People try to get the Middle East involved virtually in everything, either directly or indirectly”, the Patrriarch added.

Russia’s announcement on Friday

On Friday, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov  told reporters that fighters from Syria and the Middle East would be allowed to fight alongside Russian troops, after President Vladimir Putin backed a plan to send volunteers to battle there.

Russia has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war and turned the tide of the fighting against the Islamic State in the Baathist regime’s favour when it entered  in the conflict in 2015.

Peskov said the decision to send Syrian fighters to Ukraine was acceptable, claiming that the United States were backing measures to send mercenaries to fight alongside the Ukrainian army.

Israel’s position

Asked about  the Israeli stance on the war, Archbishop Pizzaballa explained that Israel’s position is “not simple”, because it has close ties both with Russia and Ukraine. “There are many Russians in Israel, but there are also many Ukrainians here too”, he said.

According to the Latin Patriarch, it is therefore “understandable” that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has offered to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, though, he said,  “I believe  it will not be easy, because mutual mistrust is too deep now to achieve anything”.

On Saturday last week Bennett, accompanied by Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. The Israeli Prime Minister,  acting after Kyiv asked him to launch a dialogue with Moscow following Russia’s invasion, has also had phone calls with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Israel’s leadership has decided not to follow Western hard line against Moscow, seeking to preserve its delicate security cooperation with Russia. It has not, for example, joined Western powers in forcefully condemning the Russian invasion, or providing lethal weapons to Ukraine,  sending instead humanitarian aid.

The impact of the war in the Middle East

Concluding his interview with “Sat2000”, Archbishop Pizzaballa said that, though there still is no sign of an end to the war, he hoped reason will prevail on both sides, as the conflict is already having a disastrous effect in the Middle East: “It is undermining all trust between peoples and any chance of rebuilding relations between communities”, he said. – Vatican News