US sanctions hurting Syrian Christians, says Antioch Church patriarch

The U.S. plays an important role in solving the problems being faced by Christians in Syria, but the American sanctions on the Middle Eastern country is hurting the believers there, according to the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Damascus.

(REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki)An Assyrian woman attends a mass in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, inside Ibrahim al-Khalil church in Jaramana, eastern Damascus March 1, 2015.

Speaking to Fox News in an interview during his visit to the U.S., His Beatitude John X appealed to the leaders of the nation to put an end to the suffering of Syrians. He asked for help in finding three kidnapped church leaders and maintaining Christian presence in the region.

"We thank the position the United States has taken in fighting terrorism. The United States has a basic and important role to play in resolving these issues that we face. The United States is a superpower and has a way to make decisions that is well-recognized, a way to push everybody to find a peaceful solution (through) dialogue," Patriarch John X told Fox. "On the other hand, the U.S. can do something tremendous by helping the people of Syria and supporting their everyday needs."

In addition, the Orthodox patriarch urged the U.S. to "lift the sanctions" that were affecting Christians and other minorities in Syria.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged that the American government's sanctions since 2011 aimed to deprive the Syrian regime of resources that could be used in violence against civilians, but it also noted that it took "significant steps" in 2013 to make sure that civilians were not affected economically.

Late last month, the British government called for sanctions on Syria after a United Nations investigation revealed that the government was to blame for the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4. The bomb dropped by the Syrian air force killed at least 80 individuals on the ground, The Telegraph reported.

As Patriarch John X called for an end to the economic sanctions on Syria, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft demanded that those responsible for the sarin attack be held accountable. He urged the United Nations Security Council to act on the findings of the investigation and to serve justice to the victims.