Syria Groups Urge Russia to Push 'World Cup Ceasefire'

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Syrian civil society groups on Monday urged Russia, which is hosting the football World Cup in a month, to ensure a nationwide ceasefire ahead of the month-long competition.

An alliance of organizations under the name of "We exist!" launched a campaign urging key brokers in the seven-year-old Syria conflict to harness the global appeal of football to push for peace.

"While the world's attention turns to football in Russia, the war in Syria continues to destroy lives and inflict immense suffering on men, women and children," said Bassam al-Ahmad, who heads Syrians for Truth and Justice, a member of the alliance.

"For Russia, the World Cup is 'a tournament of dreams' but in Syria there is no cause to dream," said Maria al-Abdeh, Executive Director of Women Now for Development. 

"For hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, the World Cup will pass by unnoticed so long as the fighting carries on and bombs continue to fall," she said.

The campaign was launched with a video highlighting the suffering of Syrians since the previous World Cup in 2014.

At the height of the deadly regime assault on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta in March this year, Syrian charities and rights groups had called on Western leaders to threaten a World Cup boycott.

There were few signs however that Western powers were willing to risk their presence at the World Cup to lean on Moscow, which has in recent years become the key player in the Syrian conflict.

The opening ceremony of the World Cup, which Russia is hosting for the first time, will take place on June 14.

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