The Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, has urged the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Syria in light of the spread of coronavirus.
The archbishop yesterday sent a message of solidarity to Syria from occupied Jerusalem, stating: "I send this appeal and this message, perhaps it reaches people who still have conscience in the world. Lift the sanctions imposed on Syria in light of the spread of coronavirus."
The audio statement was published on the state-run Syrian news site SANA, in which Hanna condemned the on-going sanctions as a crime against humanity.
"From Jerusalem city, we send the message of solidarity, fraternity, love and loyalty to Syria as president, army and people," he said adding: "Syria, which triumphed over its enemies who conspired against it, will also triumph over the coronavirus epidemic."
Last year, Hanna was hospitalised after an Israeli gas canister was fired into his Jerusalem church, although he could not be certain the Israeli authorities were behind the attack, he believed there was reason to believe the attack was an assassination attempt.
Russia and China have recently stepped up efforts to lift sanctions imposed on Syria as a result of its brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in 2011, which pushed the country into a civil war. President Bashar Al-Assad's allies have cited the virus as a justification for their call for the removal of sanctions, which would require approval by the US.
Currently the US and the EU's sanctions have had a negative impact on Syria's medical sector, in particular when it comes to importing medical equipment. Sanctions also affect the country's banking sector, making it almost impossible to transfer money out of Syria or to trade in US dollars.
The EU has considered adding further sanctions in light of last week's conclusive findings made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), laying blame on the Syrian Arab Air Force for three chemical weapons attacks in 2017, findings which have been disputed by the government and whistle-blowers from within the organisation.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, the Syrian government has closed borders, forbidden movement between provinces and closed schools and restaurants. However the situation has been described as a "disaster in the making", according to Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London (IISS).
Official figures state only two people have died as a result of contracting COVID-19, although some experts believe the death toll to be higher than authorities are claiming.