Tuesday, June 16, 2020

RLPB 554. Syria: Damascus Under Siege

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 554 | Wed 17 Jun 2020
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SYRIA: DAMASCUS UNDER SIEGE
-- Christian Crisis Looms in Syria
By Elizabeth Kendal

Control map Dec 2019
As a tactic, siege has been used repeatedly during the Syrian crisis, by both sides. From the outside, a village, town or district is surrounded and its supply-lines severed. On the inside, hardship, fear and anger mount as besieged locals watch their food, water and medical supplies run dry. The aim of a siege is to create a pressure-cooker environment so horrendous that it will ultimately culminate in a coup, a revolt or a surrender. The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which takes effect today - 17 June - places Damascus in a state of economic siege. The Act mandates that any foreign entity found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Thus, the Act will not apply to business and reconstruction in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), nor in Idlib - a jihadist sanctuary under the protection of Turkey - nor in the eastern oil fields of Deir ez Zor which are controlled by Islamic jihadists under US protection.

Christmas in Damascus, Dec 2018
As in 2011, regime change efforts will doubtless fail for Syria's ethnic and religious minorities (including Assyrians and Armenians, Alawites and Christians), as well as her large cohort of largely secular, cosmopolitan, anti-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Sunni Muslims who do not want to risk an Islamist takeover! While it is highly probable that the Syrian government will survive the sanctions, the same cannot be said for Syria's Christians, most of whom (including those displaced by war) live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. Will the Hungarian government be sanctioned if it continues to assist persecuted Christians with reconstruction through its 'Hungary Helps' program? Will aid groups such as the Assyrian Aid Society, Open Doors, or Aid to the Church in Need, or Assyrians and Armenians in Syria's diaspora community, face sanctions for helping decimated and devastated Christian communities rebuild? Christians will suffer as their economic situation deteriorates to catastrophic. They will suffer as efforts at reconstruction grind to a halt. Also, most seriously, they will suffer unspeakably if the Syrian Army, now deprived of funds, is forced to pull back, leaving front-line Christian communities in the north and east vulnerable to genocide at the hands of Turkish military and Islamic jihadist forces.

In its own words, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act has been enacted 'to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes'. But by targeting the Syrian government alone, the Act perpetuates the false narrative that the Syrian conflict was a war between the evil President Assad and 'the [victimised] Syrian people'. On the contrary, the truth is that under the cover of 'Arab Spring' protests (which were led in Syria by the banned MB), neo-Ottoman, pro-MB, NATO-member Turkey, pro-MB Qatar and Wahhabist, US-allied Saudi Arabia moved to effect regime change in Damascus in pursuit of their dream to run oil and gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey via Syria. A YouGov poll commissioned by Qatar in December 2011 showed that, while a majority of regional Arabs (Saudi, Qatari, Yemeni, Jordanian, Palestinian etc) supported regime-change in Damascus, 55 percent of Syrians did not! Furthermore, through 2012, as multitudes of well-armed foreign jihadists flooded into Syria across Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders, Syrian support for the Syrian government grew exponentially.

From the outset, Syrian Christians had pleaded with the West not to support the up-ending of the secular order (as happened in Iraq) and not to arm Muslim 'rebels'. Alas, their cries and warnings were rejected. Had Russia not intervened in September 2015, al-Qaeda (based in Idlib) would have seized Latakia (the Alawite heartland in the north) and Islamic State (advancing from the Syrian desert) would have seized Damascus (the Syrian capital), at which point Syria would have descended into genocidal hell. The Western narrative is a false narrative. [See After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, Elizabeth Kendal, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016)].

'No to sanctions on the Syrian people'
The Caesar Act is supposedly motivated by a desire to see an end to impunity for human rights abusers. Yet the region's most repressive, vile and anti-Christian human rights abusers - NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia - are not under scrutiny. Turkey, which stands accused of ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, is not even mentioned in the Act. Essentially, what Damascus' enemies (Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia) have failed to achieve militarily (regime-change in Damascus), the US hopes to achieve by economic means, although Washington is doubtless motivated more by a desire to humiliate Russia (which backed Assad) and obstruct China (which sees Syria as an important node in its Belt and Road Initiative) than by any human rights issues it has with Assad.

Recommended: Charles Camosy interviews Robert Chelhod -- a Syrian living in Aleppo -- on the matter of sanctions. Crux Now, 2 May 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* not allow Syria to collapse into chaos; may war-weary Syrians not be forced into further suffering and deeper poverty; may religious freedom be protected and may any scheme that would imperil Syria's Church be re-thought.

* provide Syria's suffering Church with her every need:
'As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.' (Psalm 103:13,14 ESV)

- may Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) supply the Syrian Church with all the food, water and medicines she requires, not only for herself but also for her numerous compassionate and outreach ministries;

- may our compassionate Heavenly Father help Christians seeking to rebuild their homes, districts, villages, churches, seminaries, schools and health clinics;

- most critically, may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts; the commander of heaven's angelic forces) protect Syrian Christians from the genocidal plots of Turkey and its jihadist proxies, as well as from a resurgent Islamic State.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN SYRIA

The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came into effect on 17 June. The Act essentially places Damascus in a state of economic siege. Any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Almost all Syria's Christians, including those displaced by war, live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. The sanctions mean that hardship will escalate to catastrophic levels, reconstruction will grind to a halt and, most critically, if the Syrian Army is forced to pull back, security for Christian front-line communities in the north and east will deteriorate markedly. Please pray.

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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).