Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RLPB 222. Syria: terror and siege in the north

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 222 | Wed 07 Aug 2013


By Elizabeth Kendal

The Syrian Arab Army is based in Damascus (in the south), Syria's political capital. The north is logistically difficult to defend as heavy military hardware needs to travel long distances along exposed, open roads and a long supply-line needs to be maintained. Just months ago the regime won a strategic victory in liberating Qusair (south). Now it is ascendant in the 'rebel capital' of Homs (central) in the north-south, Aleppo-Damascus corridor. However, it is still a long way to Aleppo, meaning the stalemate and siege are set to go on for some time yet. Meanwhile, the regime essentially has abandoned the remote north-east. (MAP)


Adjoining north-western Iraq's Nineveh Province and the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria's Deir al-Zour and Hasakah provinces have long been home to sizable Kurdish and Christian populations (Syriacs, Armenians and Assyrians). The region is being fought over by Kurds and jihadists, with Turkey supporting and arming al-Qaeda's al-Nusrah Front to fight the Kurds as it does not want to see an independent Kurdish state established in Syria. Across the north-east, towns and villages are slowly being emptied of Christians, who are totally defenceless. Kidnappings, extortion and forced conversions are endemic. When al-Qaeda's al-Nusrah Front seized control of al-Thawrah on the Euphrates River in Ar-Raqqah province (north central Syria), Christians fled leaving behind everything, which was looted then as war booty by Muslims. Today the roads in Ar-Raqqah are full of jihadists, making travel exceedingly dangerous. Displaced Christians, desperate to return to their own homes and jobs, are being told they will have to convert to Islam -- otherwise they will be killed. For these Christians who have lost everything, the future is bleak indeed.


Aleppo, in the north-west, has long been Syria's commercial heart. Aleppo's two million residents are predominantly loyalists, most being secular-minded, business-oriented Sunnis, as well as a 10 percent Christian minority. The rebels who have besieged Aleppo are overwhelmingly outsiders, being rural, madrassas-educated fundamentalist Sunnis and foreign jihadis. Having captured large tracts of Aleppo, they despise the locals as loyalists and abuse them, accusing them of being 'Shabiha' (pro-Assad militias). The rebels are also blockading all aid from government-held areas, creating siege conditions.

According to a Protestant pastor in Aleppo, real hunger is driving many Christians to make the dangerous journey on foot into rebel-held territory in search of food. If food is to be found, it will be at exorbitant prices. For example, bread was 15 Lira per kg, now 225 Lira; cheese was 180-200 Lira, now 1200 Lira; powdered milk was 290 Lira, now 2000 Lira; an egg was 3 Lira, now 25 Lira. Meat, fuel, infant formula and medicines are nowhere to be seen. Without work, nobody has income and their money is running out.

On 1 August Christian aid and advocacy group Barnabas Fund (BF) published a harrowing report on the situation in Aleppo. BF's partner in Aleppo, an aid worker facilitating supply of food, water and medical care, describes a humanitarian catastrophe brought about by the rebel blockade and constant kidnappings. He reports that rebel-fired mortars are constantly landing in Christian districts, causing serious, crippling and fatal injuries to believers, young and old. Hundreds have been kidnapped, including minors, usually while trying to flee. Great effort goes into just resisting pessimism and despair. Movingly, he quotes Habakkuk 3:17-18; Psalm 27:1 and Micah 7:7-8.


* our God, who created the heavens and the earth with a word from his mouth, will work multitudes of little miracles every day: to enable safe travel, to shield from shrapnel, to provide food, water and medical aid, to enable secure and efficient money transfers, to bringing comfort, to enable healing and to sustain faith.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

(Psalm 28:8-9 ESV)

* the Lord of Hosts will effect a breakthrough to end the siege of Aleppo.

* Islam will be totally discredited in Syria as being a highway to death and may the God of grace reveal himself to Syrians. 'Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."' (John 8:12 ESV)


The Syrian Arab Army is based in Damascus (in the south), Syria's  political capital. Distance makes the north difficult to defend. The north-east effectively has been abandoned to be contested by Kurds and al-Qaeda-linked jihadis. Kidnapping, extortion, forced conversions, looting and killing are endemic, and Christians, who are essentially defenceless, are fleeing. Aleppo, in the north-west, is Syria's commercial capital, having some 2 million mostly loyalist, secular-minded, business-oriented residents, with a 10 percent Christian minority. The city is now divided into rebel-held and government-held territories. The rebels are blockading the government-held districts, creating siege conditions. Hunger is escalating. Because Aleppo is difficult to defend, the stalemate and siege could go on for some time yet. Please pray for Syria, the Aleppo siege and that God will care for his people.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)