“Something can befall you anywhere,” Sr. Maria reflected.
The religious sister is traveling to Aleppo from another difficult mission: Gaza City, the largest city in the portion of Palestine located west of Israel. Home to 1.7 million people, it has been ruled since 2007 by the Islamist movement Hamas.
Since Hamas came to power there, Israel has conducted an economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, restricting the flow of persons and goods in an effort to limit rocket attacks on Israel launched from the territory. Israel also conducts air raids against militants in the Gaza Strip; according to Palestinian medics a Jan. 16 airstrike injured five Gazans, four of whom were children.
“I find it very difficult to leave this place,” reflected Sr. Maria. “I’ve had a wonderful time there. I have developed a great affection for the people of Gaza. From the very beginning they have accepted me like a member of the family. It hasn’t been easy there, as you can imagine.”
“Christians experience a variety of difficulties in their everyday lives. But their faith has always been an example to me. This thought will now accompany me to Syria.”
The country where Sr. Maria is going now is in the midst of a civil war which began in March 2011 when demonstrations sprang up nationwide protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader of the country’s Ba’ath Party.
Assad is going ahead with upcoming national elections which are scheduled for June 3. According to Sana, the Syrian news agency, there are 11 candidates for president.
It is the first time in decades that multiple candidates have stood for Syrian president; the Assad family came to power in 1971.
There are now some 2.7 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; and an additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
The civil war is being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; and Kurdish separatists.