Church says Middle Eastern Christians face ‘tragedy’
JERUSALEM - A leading church figure in the Middle East said Monday Christians across the region were facing a "tragedy," and accused the international community of failing to act.
"The situation of Christians, especially in Syria and Iraq, is a tragedy," said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in a press conference ahead of the Christmas holidays.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem heads the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
He said up to two-thirds of Christians have left in those two countries, citing in particular Aleppo -- the previously mixed city in northern Syria which has been devastated by more than five years of civil war.
"In Aleppo, before the war there were 300,000 (Christians)," he said.
"Now it is about 50,000 maximum."
He accused world governments of failing to act to help stabilise the region, instead resorting to "slogans."
"The international community now limit themselves to slogans and some economical support. Nothing more than that -- it is very weak."
While he said attacks on Christians killed specifically due to their religion were relatively rare, there have been examples of persecution by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier this month 23 people were killed in a bombing at a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, while in September a prominent Christian writer was shot dead in Jordan.
As a region, the Middle East has the highest levels of religious hostilities in the world, according to research this year by the Pew Research Center.
Christians were harassed in 16 out of 20 countries in the region, Pew found.
In Israel, Pizzaballa said he was opposed to a government-backed plan to force mosques to quieten their calls to prayer which is currently going through the Israeli parliament.
"I think it is a dangerous precedent," he said. "I wish this bill won't proceed. There are other ways to solve the problem of acoustic pollution," he said.