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Syrian Christian community facing complete destruction, says charity

Christians in Syria are paying a high price for living in a war-zone and are being threatened with complete destruction, says a charity that's running a 'Save Syria' campaign.   Open Doors is seeking to safeguard the Syrian Christian community - around eight percent of the population - and make it possible for those who have fled the violence to return safely to their homes.   The comments come as Prime Minister David Cameron said the National Security Council has agreed unanimously that "the world should not stand by" after Syria apparently used chemical weapons. He hosted talks over possible military action earlier and tweeted the outcome saying: "The NSC agreed unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable - and the world should not stand by".

Britain will put a motion to the UN Security Council later, asking it to authorise "all necessary measures to protect civilians".

Previous efforts to secure action against President Bashar al-Assad have been vetoed by Russia and China, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged council members to "find the unity to act".

Speaking in the Hague, the UN Secretary General urged all sides to prioritise diplomacy over planning military action:

"Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance.

"Stop fighting and start talking. And here in this hall dedicated to the rule of law, I say let us adhere to the United Nations Charter."

The Foreign Secretary said chemical weapons are a 'war crime against humanity.'

William Hague was speaking after the National Security Council meeting earlier and said it's time for something to be done:

"If there can't be agreement, if there isn't agreement at the United Nations then we and other nations still have a responsibility on chemical weapons. 

"This is the first use of chemical warfare in the 21st century, it has to be unacceptable."

Open Doors has been running a campaign called 'Save Syria: Church on its knees'.

'Matthew', who works in the field office for the Middle East for the charity, told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour how the Church is coping:

The head of Syria's Melkite Greek Catholic Church says military intervention by the West against the Assad regime would be disastrous.

Speaking from Lebanon following a pastoral mission to the Syrian capital, Damascus, Gregorios III, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, said nobody can be sure who was responsible for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack.

He also stressed that in spite of the ongoing conflict, reconciliation initiatives were still viable and should be the top priority for all countries concerned with the crisis.

In the interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios said:

"Many people are coming from outside Syria to fight in the country. These fighters are fuelling fundamentalism and Islamism.

"It is time to finish with these weapons and, instead of calling for violence, international powers need to work for peace."

The Patriarch said that 450,000 Syrian Christians were either displaced within the country or were refugees, and that when he left Syria on Monday afternoon two bombs fell in Damascus, both of them very close to the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarchate, where he was based.

He added:

"We do not know if the attackers are targeting the churches. It could be that we are attacked because we are close to an army base. 

"The extremists are wanting to fuel hatred between the Christians and Muslim [groups].

"We are happy that our people are responding to this situation with prayer. Throughout this whole time of crisis, our churches have been almost full. 

"People feel fear but in spite of that they are strong in their faith." 

The Archbishop of Canterbury is also warning MPs not to rush in their decision on whether to approve military intervention in the Syria conflict.

The Most Revd Justin Welby warns it could have unforeseeable ramifications across the whole Arab and Muslim world. Joshua Youseff from Leading The Way Ministries in the US has just returned from Jordan, where many Syrian refugees have fled to. He tells Premier what they've observed:

Parliament has been recalled tomorrow to debate the unfolding crisis in Syria, and the Quakers in Britain are among those strongly urging against military intervention.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, said:

"We understand - and share - the wish of the international community to take some form of action to reduce the bloodshed, but we strongly urge those who are tempted to respond militarily to think again.

"Air strikes will kill people just as surely as chemical attacks.  All weapons must seem equally abhorrent if it is your family that is being killed.

"Punishment for use of specific kinds of weapon is no justification for further acts of war or for supplying yet more weapons.

"Experience of other conflicts shows that supposedly simple or 'surgical' military interventions usually become messy and hard to end.

"We beg those in power to work with diligence through the United Nations and all diplomatic channels to bring peace nearer.

"We will pray for peace in the region, and continue to voice our deep opposition to war."

A team of UN weapons inspectors resumed work today investigating an alleged chemical weapons attack. Last night, the Prime Minister held a discussion with President Obama about the alleged chemical weapons attack.

A Downing Street spokesman said:

"Both leaders agreed that all the information available confirmed a chemical weapons attack had taken place, noting that even the Iranian President and Syrian regime had conceded this. 

"And they both agreed they were in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible. 

"Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time; and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack."

The US says American forces are now prepared for any action ordered. US Vice President Joe Biden said there's no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible because "they are the only ones who have the weapons".

Shadow health minister Diane Abbott has threatened to resign from the frontbench if Labour supports a military intervention:

"The problem is we know from Afghanistan and Iraq that an American intervention runs the risk of making the suffering even worse. "We should be working for an international response led by the United Nations." 

The Syrian government has strongly denied that it used chemical weapons and blames opposition fighters for the attack.

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