Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 214 | Wed 12 June 2013
SYRIA: THE BATTLE FOR ALEPPO
By Elizabeth Kendal
The Iranian-backed, Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist organisation, Hezballah, has officially entered the Syrian conflict. In a televised speech on 25 May, Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah wooed Sunni Arabs by provocatively, strategically and typically framing the conflict as a struggle between the 'Western Zionist agenda' and the Syrian 'resistance' that refuses to accept the West's dictates. According to this framework -- which emphasises geo-politics over sectarianism -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been drawn into a US-NATO-Israel axis plot, rather than the US and NATO being drawn into a Saudi-Qatar-Sunni Arab axis plot. The difference is subtle but critical, aimed at encouraging Sunni Arabs to reject sectarianism and join the 'resistance'.
On 5 June the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Hezballah, liberated the strategic city of Qusair which lies close to the border with Lebanon, in Syria's central province of Homs. Under rebel control for over a year Qusair had been home to 30,000 residents, including some 3,000 Christians. Today the city is a ghost-town, utterly ruined. Homes have been reduced to rubble while churches and monasteries have been desecrated, vandalised, looted and defaced with sectarian slogans. Qusair is integral to maintaining supplies. 'We've cut a major umbilical cord of the opposition,' boasted Homs governor, Ahmad Munir Mohammad, a Sunni Muslim and government loyalist. According to General Yahya Suleiman (SAA), 'Whoever controls Qusair controls the centre of the country, and whoever controls the centre of the country controls all of Syria.'
The battle now moves to Aleppo, a city of nearly three million people, including a sizeable Christian minority and with large Armenian and Greek communities. The battle for Aleppo has been deadlocked for close to 12 months. Christians have suffered immense hardship due to the rebel blockade of government-held areas -- food, medicines and fuel are all scarce and costly. Leaving the house is fraught with risk. On Sunday 9 June foreign jihadists in Aleppo executed a boy whom they accused of blasphemy. Mohammad Qatta (15), a coffee-seller, had refused to give a 'customer' a free coffee, reportedly saying, 'Even if Muhammad comes down, I will not give it as [a] debt.' After beating and lashing the boy for hours, the rebels returned him to the street where they executed him in front of a crowd that included his distraught parents. Since the beginning of May, some 3000 Free Syrian Army fighters have defected to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusrah Front which is leading an alliance of local and foreign jihadist groups and has raised its black flag in Aleppo's Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood. According to fresh data compiled by Western-sponsored activists and organisations and relayed to NATO, the jihadist ascendency has led many Sunnis to abandon the rebellion. According to the data, 70 percent of Syrians now support the Assad regime, 20 percent are maintaining neutrality while only 10 percent are still expressing support for the rebels.
More than 4000 Hezballah fighters are reportedly in Aleppo to support the SAA. Their first aim will be the lifting of rebel-imposed sieges. The battle for Aleppo will be a protracted house to house conflict with many casualties. In Lebanon, the largest Christian party (the Free Patriotic Movement) is in a formal alliance with Hezballah. Theoretically therefore, it should be in Hezballah's interests to respect the lives and rights of Syrian Christians. However, the reality is that the ever-pragmatic Hezballah has no love for Christians but exploits them as vote cattle and human shields. Hezballah's participation could well help end the conflict's stalemate by tipping the balance of power in favour of the Syrian government. But whenever victory comes through the assistance of foreign armies, sovereignty suffers.
For Syrian Christians there will be no 'good' outcome in the short to medium term: only terrible (genocide at the hands of Sunni jihadists) or less terrible (domination by the clerical regime in Tehran and terrorist Hezballah). However, as the enduring, 'plodding', pioneer missionary William Carey noted: 'The future is as bright as the promises of God.' (Habakkuk 2:14)
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --
* Syrian Christians will look to the Lord, particularly the many thousands of Christian families besieged in Aleppo; may the Holy Spirit draw them close to their Almighty Father and remind them of the love of Christ, comforting, encouraging and fortifying them in their faith for the extremely testing times ahead.
'Therefore [because our struggle is not against flesh and blood (v12)] take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. . . In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one' (Ephesians 6:13,16 ESV).
* as the decisive battle for Aleppo takes its course, God will shelter and preserve all his precious faithful people, whether they are displaced, hunkered down in their homes or being held captive by rebels.
'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!'
(Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)
* God in his great mercy and grace will intervene in Syria to advance his purposes for the sake of the Church and glory of his Holy Name.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
THE BATTLE FOR ALEPPO, SYRIA
On 5 June the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by the Lebanese Hezballah, liberated the strategic city of Qusair near the Lebanon border in Syria's central province of Homs. Qusair, which had been under rebel control for over a year, had been home to more than 3000 Christians, some of whom are now trickling back. The battle now moves to Aleppo, a city of nearly three million people, with a sizeable Christian minority. Rebels in Aleppo recently executed a 15-year-old boy they accused of blasphemy. Since 1 May, some 3000 Free Syrian Army [rebel] fighters have defected to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusrah Front which has raised its flag in Aleppo. The battle for Aleppo will be protracted with many casualties. Please pray for Syria and for the Church, especially in Aleppo.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)