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Syria claims victory over ISIS amidst signs of rebuilding and new life

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Melkite archbishop of Aleppo encourages Christians to return to war-torn city.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Syria’s army and its allies have fully liberated the largest remaining stronghold of the Islamic State group. The news came from Hezbollah-controlled media, but Reuters said it signals the “imminent fall of the militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.”

ISIS’ last Syrian stronghold, the report said, is in the eastern border town of Albu Kamal.

Victory over the militant jihadist group does not mean an end of difficulties for Syria, of course, as Reuters points out:

In Syria, the end of major battle operations against Islamic State may only prefigure a new phase of the war, as the rival forces which have seized territory from the jihadists square off.

But there have been positive signals from various parts of the shattered country that a resurrection is beginning. Even before the latest victory, Metropolitan Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, wrote in a September 22 pastoral letter that “the war against Syria is over.”

“Syria is preparing the launching of reconstruction projects to rebuild its infrastructures and the innumerable institutions which were destroyed,” wrote Archbishop Jeanbart, who said that “all the sectors of the city of Aleppo are now secure” and that houses have electricity and running water. “Our schools are functioning; our universities and institutes which are still standing have energetically restarted their activities. The economy is reviving; this will offer numerous opportunities for those looking for work. And this is only the beginning as many important projects, financed by other countries and international companies will now be looking for competent and reliable workers to be part of their enterprises in order to achieve satisfying and significant profits.”

The archbishop, who has spent the past six or seven years trying hard to stem a mass exit of Christians from Aleppo, said at the Knights of Columbus international convention in August that more than half of the Christian population had left Aleppo because of the fighting. He expects only around one-quarter of those to return.

He said in the new letter that in the months to come Syria will need doctors, teachers, executives, skilled technicians and laborers.

“We have noticed that many industrialists and businessmen have returned to Aleppo, either to repair their factories or to reestablish their offices and businesses,” the archbishop said. “In addition, there are government projects for the construction of affordable accommodation as well as the rebuilding of schools and public and social institutions.”

Avvenire, an Italian daily, said that Syria is “returning to life” after six and a half hard years of civil war. Aleppo is no longer a ghost town, the news outlet affirmed, which described residents repairing their houses or operating pastry shops and hardware stores.

“We have been financing these activities for more than a year now,” said Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, a parish priest. A local engineer said that there have been 900 requests from “Christians who want to return to the city.” So far, the homes of 90 have been rebuilt.

In Damascus, “water and electricity are back,” Avvenire noted.

“It seemed absurd to think it just a few months ago,” says Franciscan Father Bahjat Karakach, guardian of the Friary of St. Paul, “and now we can breathe a sigh of relief.”

The market in front of the big mosque is hard to walk: tourists are not there, but traders welcome all those who can finally buy a scarf or some coffee. “Tell everyone that here is no longer so terrible, I recommend.”

“Education is the first step in starting to rebuild Syria,” a Sister Yola, who runs a children’s shelter next to where tradition holds that St. Paul encountered Christ, told Avvenire. Many of the 140 children aged 3 to 5 are refugees.

Archbishop Jeanbart encouraged those who have suffered this far to continue to have patience. “This blessed land has given us a sweet and comfortable life under the eyes of God; it will be even more favorable and generous with the end of this senseless and crazy war,” he wrote. “Our trial is ended; be prepared for a future radiant with promise.”

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