Tuesday, May 21, 2019

RLPB 503. Syria: the battle for Idlib heats up

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 503 | Wed 22 May 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

Please join us in the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
Coinciding with Ramadan -- 6 May to 4 June.

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SYRIA: THE BATTLE FOR IDLIB HEATS UP
-- Christians imperilled
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
Click here for Live Map

Idlib Governorate in Syria's north-west, bordering Turkey, is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria [see RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)]. Most of Idlib's jihadists are aligned with either the al-Qaeda-led Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) or the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF). Along with fighting the Syrian government, the HTS and NLF are also fighting each other. Under a Turkey-Russia de-escalation agreement brokered in September 2018, Turkey monitors the jihadist-held territory of 'Greater Idlib' (Idlib Governorate plus areas under rebel control in the adjoining governorates of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia), while Russia monitors Syrian government-held territory. Russia maintains humanitarian corridors and encourages civilians to flee. The rebels, however, routinely block these corridors to retain civilians as human shields for propaganda purposes. It is classic asymmetric conflict.

It has long been understood that Syria cannot allow Idlib to remain a terror sanctuary from where missiles are perpetually launched into civilian centres. On 6 May the Syrian Arab Army, with Russian support, launched an offensive in the north-west to drive the jihadists out of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia governorates and end the rebel shelling of residential centres -- shelling which directly violates the de-escalation agreement. On 10 May the UN (relying heavily on rebel propaganda) chastised the Syrian government and warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

On Sunday 12 May rebel mortars struck Al-Suqaylabiyah, a Greek Orthodox Christian city in the north-west of Hama Governorate. Father Maher Haddad, a local priest, reports: 'A rocket struck near a group of children, instantly killing five [ages 6 to 10] and wounding [at least 8] others … [a] woman was killed in a nearby street by a separate rocket.' The next day one civilian was killed and seven wounded when more rebel mortars rained down on the Christian city, once a hub for healthcare, education and mediation. According to local sources, the mortars were fired from Idlib by militants belonging to the Turkey-backed NLF. Syrian government forces retaliated by firing shells toward jihadist positions in southern Idlib.

In Latakia Governorate, which is home to large communities of Alawites and Christians, a fierce battle is raging for the strategic hill-top town of Kabani. Militants belonging to HTS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated, ethnic-Uyghur Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) hold the hill and the Syrian Army has been taking heavy losses and struggling to make any gains at all. On Friday 17 May the leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Abu Mohammed al-Julani, called for a united jihadist front and appealed for jihadists to advance the cause by opening other battle fronts, especially in western Aleppo. Al-Masdar News reports that Turkey -- which would happily preserve Idlib as a sanctuary for its jihadist proxies -- has re-deployed 'Euphrates Shield' troops from northern Aleppo into Idlib; they are now reportedly only 2km from Syrian positions. On 18 May the Syrian government declared a unilateral ceasefire; however, clashes continue.

Al-Suqaylabiyah's grieving mothers (source)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* shield his precious Church in Syria, especially in the north-west where conflict is escalating; may the Lord preserve and sustain his Church that she will endure to be light and salt and a source of great blessing to Syria's,war-ravaged and traumatised, 'harassed and helpless' peoples.

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.' (Matthew 9:36-38 ESV)

* sustain, comfort and encourage those courageous church leaders -- priests, nuns, lay-workers -- who continue to resist the temptation to flee their homeland so they can serve the suffering and persecuted Church, preach the Gospel to the lost and reflect Jesus Christ to a shattered people yearning for peace, truth, love and hope.

* intervene to bring peace and security to Syria; may the jihadists be defeated and may religious liberty be preserved so that Christians who fled to save their families will have confidence to return and rebuild.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE BATTLE FOR IDLIB HEATS UP IN SYRIA

Idlib Governorate in Syria's north-west, bordering Turkey, is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. Syria cannot allow Idlib to remain a terror sanctuary from where missiles are perpetually launched into civilian centres. On 6 May the Syrian Army launched an offensive to drive the jihadists back and end the shelling of civilian centres. On 12 May rebel missiles fired from Idlib struck Al-Suqaylabiyah, a Greek Orthodox Christian city in northern Hama. Five children playing together were killed instantly while a woman was killed nearby; eight were wounded. The next day, one civilian was killed and seven wounded when the jihadists shelled Al-Suqaylabiyah again. Jihadists are also threatening western Aleppo and northern Latakia, home for many Christians yearning for peace and security. Please pray for Syria and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

RLPB 502. 'New Sudan' in sight, but not yet in hand

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 502 | Wed 15 May 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

Please join us in the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
Coinciding with Ramadan -- 6 May to 4 June.


'NEW SUDAN' IN SIGHT BUT NOT YET IN HAND
plus update on Burkina Faso
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Alaa Salah (22) leading protests,
Khartoum, 8 April. [video]
Protests erupted in Khartoum on 19 December 2018 after the government trebled the price of bread. However, the protests were, and still are, about much more than bread. In Sudan's 1986 general election, Hassan al-Turabi's hard-line Islamist and Arab-supremacist, Khartoum-centric party, the National Islamic Front (NIF), came in third, winning only 50 of the parliament's 260 seats. In 1989 the moderate and centrist government brokered peace with the Southerners (Christians) by agreeing not to enforce Islamic Sharia law. The NIF responded by working with Islamist and Arab-supremacist Colonel Omar al-Bashir to seize power in a military coup. This unpopular and unrepresentative dictatorship -- a marriage between the NIF and al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) -- then forced its will on all Sudan's diverse peoples. It also waged jihad (Islamic holy war) against all who objected, including the African Christians of the Nuba Mountains and south Sudan, the African Muslims of Darfur in the west; and more recently in the 'new south' regions of Abyei and South Kordofan (African Christian) and Blue Nile (African Muslim). Endless racial and religious hatred, endless war and famine, the break-up of Sudan, the destruction of the economy, endless hardship -- these are the legacy of Omar al-Bashir and the NIF/NCP Government of Sudan (GoS). After 30 years, the people have had enough! [see RLPB 487 (30 Jan 2019)].

Al-Bashir (left) and Hemeti (right)
On Friday 22 February al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and deployed his militias against the people [see RLPB 491 (27 Feb)]. But the protesters -- led primarily by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) -- would not surrender. As violence escalated, the military turned and, on 11 April, Omar al-Bashir was himself ousted by his own military. The military then established a 10-member Transitional Military Council (TMC) to rule in al-Bashir's stead. However, the people would not have it; especially since the deputy head of the TMC was none other than Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan 'Hemeti' Dagalo, the head the government's infamous Rapid Support Forces (successor to the infamous Janjaweed militia) which is administered by the infamous National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)! Protests continued with the same demands: civilian representative government with the Army as the cornerstone of security and defence.

Christians from Nuba Mountains,
join protests in Khartoum.
Whilst Christians had been participating (and dying) in the protests from the beginning, the vulnerable and long-persecuted Church had refrained from taking an official position, deeming it simply too dangerous. However, with al-Bashir's ousting, the Church stepped up, officially and publicly taking a stand – as the Church – with the opposition, to the delight of all the protesters [see RLPB 499 (24 April)].

On 30 April a convoy of supporters arrived in Khartoum from Darfur. On 1 May a convoy arrived from the Nuba Mountains. The SPA encouraged protesters to decorate the streets with murals expressing the will of the people. Themes include religious and ethnic harmony and a desire for 'Sudaxit' (Sudan's exit from the Arab League) on the grounds that 'We are black people, the sons of Kushites'. On Thursday 2 May protest leaders handed the TMC a document containing the demands of the 'Forces of the Declaration for Freedom and Change'.

more IMAGES and more IMAGES

On Tuesday 7 May the TMC responded, declaring that there were several issues it could not accept. In particular, the TMC was 'disappointed' that the protest leaders saw no role for Islamic Sharia law. The TMC insists that Sharia should remain the basis of the constitution. On 8 May protest leaders rejected the TMC's rejection. Omar Youssef, a protest leader with the Sudanese Congress Party, told reporters, 'Issues like Sharia [Islamic law] and the language of the state [Arabic], those are ideological weapons the former regime kept using to divide the people ... between Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs. We are not willing to stand for this game.' As Salah Aldoma, a Sudanese political analyst observed, 'The Sudanese revolution is against political Islam ...'

Talks resumed on Monday 13 May, but the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were out in force dispersing protesters with tear gas. In the evening, unidentified gunmen opened fire; a policeman and at least five protesters were killed and dozens wounded, some critically. Talks will continue through Wednesday 15 May, at which point, if their demands are not met, the opposition will launch further civil disobedience. The protests have reached a pivotal point. The 'New Sudan' envisaged by the late Dr John Garang is in sight, but not yet in hand. These are incredibly dangerous, watershed days.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* break through all resistance in Khartoum, so that those striving at great risk for peace, unity and liberty will attain it and so that the Gospel might resume its advance, not only among 'the sons of the Kushites', but among Arabs and all the diverse peoples of Sudan.

'Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush [Nubia / historic, African Sudan] ...' (from Psalm 87 ESV)

'"The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood." Therefore, the name of that place is called Baal-perazim' [which means the Lord of breaking through, or the Lord who bursts through]. (2 Samuel 5:20 ESV)

* 'bind the strong man' (Satan) so that the Islamist 'deep state' will indeed be swept away -- leaderless, powerless, unable to wreak havoc -- so that the people may be truly liberated and redeemed. (see Mark 3:22-27)

* preserve and sustain his long-suffering precious Church in Sudan; may she have wisdom to navigate the path ahead and effectual power from the Holy Spirit as she testifies to the grace, mercy and wisdom of God in Jesus Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'NEW SUDAN' IN SIGHT BUT NOT YET IN HAND

After 30 years of racism, jihad, repression and hardship at the hands of Sudan's Islamist and Arab-supremacist government, Sudan's diverse peoples have had enough! Protests erupted on 19 December. On 22 February President Omar al-Bashir deployed his militias against the people. On 11 April al-Bashir -- who came to power in a military coup -- was ousted by a military coup. The military then appointed a ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC). But the protesters -- who have come to Khartoum from all over Sudan -- said 'no' to military rule, 'no' to political Islam, 'no' to Arab hegemony and 'no' to Sharia Law which the TMC insists should remain the bedrock of the constitution. A 'New Sudan' is in sight, but not yet in hand. These are dangerous, watershed days. Please pray for Sudan and its Church.

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UPDATE to last week's RLPB 501 on Burkina Faso

Fr. Siméon Yampa 
On the morning of Sunday 12 May up to 30 Islamic militants attacked a Catholic church in remote Dablo, northern Burkina Faso, killing the priest and five other worshippers. According to one survivor, the militants insisted that the priest -- Fr. Siméon Yampa -- not be allowed to escape; he must be killed. The militants then torched the church and several properties in the town, including the health clinic and pharmacy. Dablo is not far from Silgadji where a Protestant pastor and five other worshippers were similarly slaughtered on the morning of Sunday 28 April. Another Catholic priest, Fr Père Joël Yougbaré was abducted from the same area on Sunday 17 March; his fate and whereabouts remain unknown. On Monday 13 May, four Catholics were shot dead in central BF by gunmen who found them transporting a religious statue. Also on 13 May, gunmen attacked a Catholic church just over the border in Niger, wounding the parish priest. An analysis of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso will be available on Religious Liberty Monitoring by the end of May. Please continue to pray for Burkina Faso.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com