Wednesday, July 1, 2020

RLPB 556. Syria and Lebanon: Church in Need

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 556 | Wed 01 Jul 2020
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By Elizabeth Kendal


On 17 June the US government enacted its Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which mandates that any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or entering into contracts related to reconstruction in government-held areas (which is where most Christians live) will face US sanctions [see RLPB 554 (17 June)]. Lamenting the move as 'inhuman' and 'diabolical', Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo echoed RLPB's assessment, that the Caesar Act is designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime change' [RLPB 555 (24 June)]. It is, as RLPB noted, siege warfare by other means. As Ziad Ghisn (a Syrian journalist who specialises in economics reporting) explains: 'Whenever sanctions have been enforced, whether by a unilateral decision or by the Security Council, it has always been the people who have paid the biggest price – indeed, they are often the sole victim.'

'Syria sanctions indirectly hit children's cancer treatment'
(Reuters, 16 March 2017)
Ghisn's post on the London School of Economics' blog (April 2020) focuses on the devastating impact that years of Western sanctions have had on Syria's once thriving health sector. Syria's pharmaceutical industry too was once one of Syria's most successful, private sector-led industries. While it might be correct to say that Western sanctions do not directly target the health sector, this is a deception. In truth, Western sanctions have crippled Syria's health sector and pharmaceuticals industry by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals, medicine-enclosing and packaging materials (such as vials and ampules), hospital equipment, laboratory reagents and even repairs and spare parts for life-saving machines. Along with maternal and infant deaths, deaths from entirely treatable conditions have skyrocketed. In February 2019, Archbishop Tobji of Aleppo lamented that, while the bombs and terror had mostly ceased, the‘war of economics’ was hitting Syrians hard. The siege established by the Caesar Act ensures that the humanitarian crisis in government-held areas is set to escalate.

The human rights pretext for the Caesar Act comes from the more than 50,000 images, allegedly smuggled out of Syria by a defector code-named 'Caesar', purporting to show the bodies of Syrian civilians tortured to death in Assad's prisons. On this ground, the US declares, 'Assad must go!' It must be noted that the Caesar Report was commissioned by the pro-Muslim Brotherhood ruling family of Qatar, who are sworn enemies of Assad and integral to the regime-change-alliance. In December 2015, Human Rights Watch released a report titled 'If the Dead Could Speak', in which HRW concluded that these photos are simply unverified photos of dead people, nearly half of whom are Syrian soldiers and victims of rebel car bombs and other violence. So the pretext, too, is a deception! The US is acting on behalf of its human rights-abusing allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia (who simply want to dominate Syria so they might run pipelines through its territory), and to spite Russia (which backed Assad) and China (which views Syria as integral to its Belt & Road Initiative). May the Lord have mercy on the Syrian people!


'Lebanon on Precipice of Second Civil War'
(Reuters, 27 Nov 2019)
Nationwide protests against Lebanon's political leaders erupted in October 2019, triggered by an unprecedented economic crisis which has since been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. On 6 June protests descended into sectarian violence as calls rang out for Hezbollah to disarm. As veteran Middle East correspondent Dale Gavlak reports, 'That demand ignited violent rage from supporters of the powerful Shi'ite paramilitary group backed by Iran ...'

Shi'ite agitators aligned with Hezbollah and its ally, Amal, deliberately provoked sectarian conflict. Shi'ite agitators on 'around 200 motorbikes' stormed Ain el-Remmaneh - a poor Christian suburb southeast of Beirut close to the so-called Green Line which divides the city into Muslim and Christian sectors. Ain el-Remmaneh - a hot-spot for Muslim-Christian violence during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) - is the birthplace of Samir Geagea, who leads the Christian party 'Lebanese Forces' and is an outspoken critic of Hezbollah. Clashes ensued and a tense stand-off persisted throughout the day. The Shi'ite agitators also provoked the Sunnis by chanting Shia sectarian slogans against Aisha, Muhammad's third and youngest wife who waged war against the fourth Caliph, Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law), a Shia. Sunnis regard this as akin to blasphemy!

President Michel Aoun labelled the unrest an 'alarm bell' and called a meeting for national unity, which most key stakeholders boycotted. Protesters hit the streets again on 11, 12, 13, 18, 25 and 30 June to protest the cost of living, which is soaring as the value of the Lebanese pound continues to plummet. Analysts agree that Lebanon is facing the biggest threat to its stability since the end of the country's civil war. The risk is that the unrest could turn sectarian, something a besieged Hezbollah might assess is in its interests.

* provide the Church in Syria with her every need, in particular with all the food, water, shelter, medicines and educational resources she requires, not only for herself and her own survival but also for her numerous and varied humanitarian and outreach ministries (see Matthew 6:31-33).

* intervene in Lebanon to subvert all plots to trigger sectarian conflict; may peace reign and those who plot evil fall into their own traps (see Psalm 7:14-16).

* provide Lebanon's Christian leaders - political, civic and religious - with all the wisdom, discernment, courage and grace they will need to lead their people through the storms that lie ahead.

* move by his Spirit in Syria and Lebanon to redeem all suffering, all grief and all anxiety and use it to draw those who are lost towards the Saviour, as well as those who are believers into a deeper relationship with their Saviour. May the Lord bring revival and spiritual unity to the churches of Syria and Lebanon.


In Syria's government-held areas (where most Christians live), military conflict may be over but a 'war of economics' continues to claim the lives of Syrian civilians, who now die because of Western sanctions. Whilst not directly targeting Syria's health sector, Western sanctions have crippled it by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment for life-saving treatments. The US Caesar Act sanctions, enacted on 17 June, will escalate this humanitarian crisis enormously. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Lebanon, anti-government protests launched in October last year risk turning sectarian. On 6 June pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite agitators on some 200 motorbikes stormed a Christian area, triggering clashes. Shi'ite agitators also provoked Sunnis with highly offensive sectarian slogans, triggering more clashes. Lebanon's peace is exceedingly fragile! Please pray for the Church in Syria and Lebanon.


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).