Aleppo bishop speaks out against Christian kidnappings

The bishop of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo on Monday urged the international community to pay greater attention to the fate of Syria's Christian minority, saying they were being terrorised by a spate of kidnappings for money.

"Aleppo has been living in terror and anguish for seven months," Antoine Audo of the Chaldean Church, who also heads the Syrian branch of the Catholic charity Caritas, said in an interview with AFP.

"There are several fronts and we never know when they will attack. There is constant back-and-forth. We have snipers on the edges of neighbourhoods, we have car bombs, bombings," he said in a Vatican office following a synod in Rome to elect a new Chaldean patriarch.

"The worst thing is the kidnappings," he said.

"It is very difficult to work out who is carrying out them out. You cannot risk leaving Aleppo in a car. Since 80 percent of Syrians are unemployed, these kidnappings are a way to cash in," he said.

"Christians are sometimes more targeted by kidnappers since they have not organised themselves into militias under a tribal system," he said.

Audo said the conflict meant even the middle class in the city had become "impoverished".

"We do not have heating or electricity," he said.

The 67-year-old Audo, a Jesuit, became bishop of his native Aleppo in 1992. The ancient Iraq-based Chaldean Church recognises the authority of the Vatican but has its own hierarchy.

"We do not want our country to be destroyed, or to just get a bit of money to console us. That would really be an insult for our people," he said.

"What we want is help for a process of dialogue and reconciliation in Syria," he said.

Syrian Christians, he said, were setting an example by staying put and "finding inclusive solutions".

"We always have to overcome violence with intelligence, rationality, charity, forgiveness. By accepting others," he said.

But he said the minority was suffering amid general indifference to its fate in the West.

"We get the impression we are not being listened to! No one cares whether we stay or leave."

"The priority for the West is economic power, a consumer society! It does not see the historic importance of our presence," he said.