SYRIA: APPEALING FOR THE LORD'S INTERVENTION
By Elizabeth Kendal
As US-Iran rapprochement advanced apace in the early months of this year, the Turkey-Arab regime-change alliance knew it had to up the ante if Assad was to be removed before the lifting of sanctions further empowered Iran. The battle changed as al-Qaeda aligned Saudi-backed groups united to seize strategic Idlib. Now, with Turkey and the US fighting IS in Aleppo, the Turkey-Saudi-Qatar-backed al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah rebel alliance is free to concentrate its forces and efforts in its push into Hama and Latakia Governorates. On 10 August Jaish al-Fatah seized control of the northern Sahl al-Ghab plain. Fierce fighting is under way and hundreds of the local population have joined the ranks of loyalist forces to defend their villages from international jihadis. The Syrian army might have superior armour but the jihadists have US-made anti-tank guided missiles. A Jaish al-Fatah victory in the Sahl al-Ghab plain would isolate the Alawite stronghold of Latakia. Home to many Christians, Latakia is also hosting many thousands of Christian refugees from Aleppo and across the north.
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Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) forces moved into historic Palmyra on 12 May, gradually expanding to seize the city. Located midway along the main road leading from Damascus through the east to the Iraq border, Palmyra operates as a strategic gateway to the west of the country. The town of Qaryatayn is midway between Palmyra and Damascus and only 45km due east of the strategic M5 Highway which links Damascus to Homs. Whilst most of Qaryatayn's Christian residents fled when IS seized Palmyra, the priests remained, hosting refugees in the monastery. On 21 May IS forces kidnapped Jesuit priest Father Jacques Mourad and a deacon named Boutros from the Mar Elian Monastery in Qaryatayn. [See RLPB 311 (27 May).] Their condition and whereabouts remain unknown.
On Thursday 6 August IS suicide bombers breached Qaryatyn's checkpoints, opening the way for IS fighters to invade, seize the town and abduct some 230 persons. Al-Monitor reports, 'Local sources told As-Safir that IS militants kidnapped more than 150 Syrian Christian citizens from the Khoury, Rahil, Tahan, Malghouj, Kumkum and Satah families, and prevented the rest of the people from leaving the village without paying large sums of money per person.' A commentator for the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those abducted were wanted by IS for 'collaborating with the regime'. He said their names were on a list already prepared by the militants before they occupied the town. As Middle East Concern notes, this has serious implications for those taken; their lives are definitely in danger.
IS also seized the village of Hawwarin in a simultaneous attack. Situated about 15km west of Qaryatyn, Hawwarin is an Assyrian village and the attack has displaced some 2000 Assyrian Christians. Just 15km west of Hawwarin is the town of Sadad. In November 2013 Sadad was attacked by 'rebels' who held the town's 1500 families hostage for a week while they looted homes, desecrated churches and murdered some 45 civilians. Not waiting for IS, Sadad's 5000 residents are now fleeing towards Damascus (100km to the south) and Homs (60km to the north).
Diplomatic activity has become frantic. Whilst the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey still insist that Assad must go, the US is loathe to create a power vacuum in Damascus, aware no doubt that genocide would ensue. Russia is leading negotiations to forge an anti-IS alliance which will include the Syrian government (protecting the minorities), thereby opening the door to a power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile Iran has said it will be submitting its own peace plan to the United Nations. However, as analysts note these negotiations are totally disconnected from the reality on the battlefield where Sunni jihadists now have the momentum. As long as the jihadists believe they can win, they are unlikely to agree to a deal, much less cede power.
Meanwhile, analysts in the intelligence community are warning that IS may be preparing to carry out a 'mass-casualty terrorist attack'. While analysts are focused on the prospect of a mass-casualty attack on the West, we need to consider that IS is already holding more than 300 Christians in captivity.
'My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people ...' (Lamentations 2:11a,b ESV)
'Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children ...' (Lamentations 2:19 a,b ESV)
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL
* have mercy on the multitudes of Syrians whose lives are gravely imperilled by Islamic jihad, in particular the hundreds of thousands of Christians who will remain at risk of slaughter until the jihadis are defeated; may the Lord of Hosts intervene in the conflict to fight for his beloved and shield them, comfort them and provide their every need.
* guide and give divine wisdom to all Syria's and the region's Christian leaders as they represent the local Church, advocate on their behalf, advise outsiders and direct their own congregations; may the Holy Spirit's presence and empowerment be palpable.
* frustrate the ways of the wicked and bring them to ruin (Psalm 146:9). 'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
PRAYING FOR THE LORD'S INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
Having seized Idlib in the north, the Turkey-Saudi-Qatar-backed, al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah alliance is now pressing south into Hama. Fierce fighting rages as Islamic jihadists with US-made weapons fight the Syrian Army and loyalist forces comprised largely of local people desperate to defend their villages. Having seized Palmyra in the east, Islamic State (IS) is now pressing west towards the M5 Highway linking Damascus with Homs and the north. These are critical days. On 6 August IS abducted some 150 Christians from Qaryatayn, west of Palmyra. Thousands have been displaced from the Assyrian village of Hawwarin and the nearby town of Sadad. Intelligence indicates IS (which holds over 300 Christians in captivity) may be planning a 'mass casualty terrorist attack'. Please pray for peace in Syria and for its Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).