Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RLPB 370. Syria: Christians gravely imperilled in Aleppo

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 370 | Wed 10 Aug 2016

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by Elizabeth Kendal

In 2012 Homs was a rebel stronghold. Its Christians and nominal or secular Muslims had either fled or been expelled. In June 2013 Syrian government and loyalist forces liberated the town of al-Qusayr, severing the rebels' supply-line into the city. The Syrian army also besieged the city, turning it into a 'pressure cooker', before opening humanitarian corridors and offering amnesty to 'moderate' Syrian fighters prepared to surrender to the government. At that point, there was little the Islamic jihadists based in Homs could do but watch their human shields melt away. By May 2014 Homs had been liberated. On 25 June 2016 the Syrian government launched the 'Castello Operation', the first phase of a campaign to liberate rebel-held eastern Aleppo using the same strategy.

Father Ibrahim Alsabagh
western Aleppo, July 2016 (ACN)
The war has turned Aleppo into a divided city. The west, where Aleppo's remnant 40,000 Christians live, is in government hands. The east meanwhile is held by the 'rebels', who are supplied via the Castello Road which runs through rebel-held territory north of the city en route to Turkey. Commencing 25 June Syrian forces advanced under Russian air cover, pressing toward the rebel supply-line from the north and from the south in a pincer manoeuvre. The fighting was furious. Not only was there much aerial bombardment close to Christian areas, but rebels fired rockets into Christian districts at a furious rate. On one day in mid-July, some 250 rebel rockets rained down on the mainly Christian quarter of government-held western Aleppo. Speaking through the Catholic charity 'Aid to the Church in Need', Franciscan friar Father Ibrahim Alsabagh appealed for the West to close the border from Turkey to Syria, 'through which the weapons, food and fighters' pass to support the rebels who, he maintained, are anything but 'moderate'.

On 26 July Syrian government and loyalist forces captured the Castello Road, severing the rebel supply-line. By 28 July rebel-held eastern Aleppo was besieged. On 28 July the Syrian government opened three humanitarian corridors, promising that four more would be opened very soon. Though dozens of families and fighters did leave, the rebels, not wanting to lose their human shields, convinced most to stay by declaring the humanitarian corridors to be a trap. The US too expressed concerns that the humanitarian corridors could actually be a ruse.

click on map to enlarge
Source: ISW
On 31 July the rebels launched a counter-offensive in south-western Aleppo and by 6 August had broken through the siege. Western media is cheering loudly for what the Institute for the Study of War has described as 'a major victory for al-Qaeda in Syria'. The rebels are fighting with Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), a coalition dominated by al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and Ahrar al-Sham (a Salafist outfit modelled on the Taliban). Because Jaysh al-Fatah also includes several much smaller militias, some of which are US-backed, Jaysh al-Fatah profits from US weapons and US protection. To quote the Russian President, the 'terrorists' might be 'rough and cruel people, but they're in no way primitive or silly'! On 7 August the Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room released a statement declaring its intention to take the jihad into western Aleppo so as to capture the entire city.

The battle for Aleppo is set to escalate. Iran is pouring in elite Shi'ite fighters who, like the Sunni jihadists, have no great love for Christians. Nor do the Shi'ites have much love for Alawites, who are often referred to as 'little Christians' because of all their many similarities -- in fact, the alliance is purely strategic. The weeks ahead could determine if Christians and Christianity will survive in Aleppo.


* intervene in Aleppo, to 'frustrate the way of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9c NIV).

* shield and preserve all his faithful ones for, as heaven knows, Syria is going to need them.

'The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.' (Psalm 145:20 ESV)

* comfort and sustain Aleppo's gravely imperilled and deeply traumatised remnant Christians. By the power of the ever-present Holy Spirit, may they continue to walk by faith with their eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2) and may they experience the peace that comes from knowing they are in the sanctuary of the LORD.

['Sanctuary' -- Hebrew: miqdas (Isaiah 8:14) -- the place where God dwells.]


The battle for Aleppo is about to escalate. In late July Syrian government and loyalist forces severed the supply-line into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. They besieged the rebel stronghold while opening humanitarian corridors so that civilians and surrendering fighters might leave. With rebels calling the escape routes a trap, most chose to stay. On 31 July the rebels launched a counter-offensive in south-western Aleppo and by 6 August had broken through the siege. Western media are applauding what is actually a major victory for al Qaeda in Syria. The rebels are fighting with the al-Qaeda-led Jaysh al-Fatah and are threatening to take their jihad into government-held western Aleppo and to capture the whole city. This is home to some 40,000 remnant Christians. Please pray for God's intervention in Aleppo.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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