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Christians called to pray and fast for the crisis in Syria

A Christian MP has told Premier's News Hour that he met with the leader of the opposition in Syria, who said air strikes would paralyse the Assad regime. Sir Gerald Howarth was one of ten MPs who had a meeting with Ahmad Asi Al-Jarba, the President of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. World leaders are still no closer to resolving how to deal with the crisis with President Obama defying pressure from them to abandon plans for air strikes against Syria. At the end of the G20 summit, President Obama said there's growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by following the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And he revealed he had a meeting with Russia's President about Syria, although there was disagreement about America's support for military intervention.

Mr Obama believes the main division is over how to proceed: "Leaders from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm against the use of chemical weapons must be upheld and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people. 

 "And that as a consequence there needs to be a strong response." Mr Howarth told Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour it's not surprising there's no international consensus:

The US government accuses Syrian President Assad of murdering people in a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st. Mr Assad, however, is pointing the finger at the rebels for the attack and Russian President Vladimir Putin said it still is not clear which side used the weapons. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders attending the summit that they have a "collective responsibility to mankind" to act. The Prime Minister said a coalition of countries is sending a strong message they can't standby while the people of Syria suffer. Speaking at the G20 summit, David Cameron said he supports President Obama's efforts to uphold the ban on the use of chemical weapons. But the PM accepts military intervention in Syria would be - for some countries - a step too far: "This summit was never going to reach agreement on what action is needed on Syria, but the case made by those countries who believe we have to take a stand over the use of chemical weapons was, I believe, extremely powerful." The United Nations Syria peace envoy said no country should take the law into their own hands and the Russian President said any attack on Syria would destabilise the Middle East. Pope Francis is calling for a day of fasting and prayer for the crisis in Syria and on Saturday he will join worshipers in St Peter's Square.

Earlier this week the pontiff urged world leaders to 'overcome their conflicting positions' and seek 'a renewed commitment to a peaceful solution'.

 Rt Revd Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, is taking part in the prayer and fasting event here in the UK. He tells Premier's Marcus Jones it's right Christians offer their own intervention into the situation in Syria:

The US Catholic Bishops have also written to President Obama urging him not to resort to military intervention but instead work to end the violence in Syria through a political solution. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, joined President Obama in condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, declaring these "indiscriminate weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations."

They also echoed the appeals of Pope Francis:

"Our focus is on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and on saving lives by ending the conflict, not fueling it.

"A military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.

"We ask the United States to work urgently and tirelessly with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities."

The Jesuit General is accusing the United States and France of an "abuse of power", in considering military action in Syria. 

Father General Adolfo Nicolás SJ said:

"I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure."

The head of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has met with defence ministers in Lithuania, said a 'firm international response' is needed:

"I think the international community has a responsibility to uphold and enforce the international ban against the use of chemical weapons." 

David Cameron said Britain's own tests show that chemical weapons were used in a deadly attack in the Syrian capital. Samples taken following a military strike in Damascus around a fortnight ago have tested positive for the nerve agent, sarin.

The Prime Minister thinks the evidence is clear:

"Our joint intelligence committee said that it was highly likely that the regime was responsible and they couldn't foresee any other scenarios and they particularly ruled out the idea that the opposition could have been responsible."

Meanwhile, its reported that Al-Qaeda fighters and the Free Syrian Army seized a village which is linked to the earliest days of Christianity. Maaloula - which is hoping to receive world heritage status - is linked to the earliest days of Christianity  It's famous as St Thecla - a follower of St Paul - took refuge there after fleeing persecution. John Pontifex is from Aid to the Church in Need.

He told Premier's News Hour all Christians should be concerned by yesterday's attack:

David Cameron's announced the UK will give an extra £52 million pounds in aid to help those affected by the crisis in Syria. On Tuesday, the United Nations confirmed the number of refugees fleeing the country has passed the two million mark. Half of those are estimated to be children. There are also more than four million displaced within Syria. 

International Development Secretary Justine Greening explains where the money is going:

"It will go to people both inside and outside Syria for food, medical support for them, shelter, clean water which is critical as well. 

"It's now our largest ever pledge that we have made in response to any humanitarian crisis."

Meanwhile, the United States is ordering non-emergency embassy staff to leave Lebanon, ahead of a debate by American politicians on possible military strikes in neighbouring Syria.

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