Tag: Syria

Second Anniversary of 21 Egyptian Christians Executed by ISIS in Libya

Family of 21 Martyrs Remain Proud of Their Family’s Sacrifice

Two years ago, ISIS released a video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” In it, ISIS militants in military fatigues walk behind 21 Egyptian Christian male captives in orange jumpsuits before forcing them to kneel, in a style that emulates the videos released by ISIS of brutal killings in Iraq and Syria. One of the militants then threatened Christians by declaring, “O crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes.”

The ruthless execution of these Christian men shocked the world and left 21 Egyptian families in mourning. Many of the victims were trying to find work in Libya before ISIS kidnapped them. Their deaths and the video are a continual reminder of ISIS brutality toward anyone who does not support their radical ideology.

Many of the family members have chosen to use this anniversary as a time of celebration in spite of the pain associated with the video. The uncle of one martyr noted, “At the beginning, the news of executing our martyrs in Libya was very painful for us, but God has strengthened us and his Holy Spirit has given us the patience and heavenly consolation.”

The pain does not eliminate the pride experienced by many family members who remember that their loved ones were martyred for Christ. One wife recollected how her husband “kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ. His faith was very strong. I’m proud of him. He has lifted our heads up and honored us and all the Christians.” Another family member reminisced, “I’m very happy that my brother is in Heaven with Jesus now. I loved my brother when he was alive on the earth, but now I love him more than before. He was martyred in the name of Jesus Christ.”

These family members refuse to allow their loved ones’ deaths to be in vain. “All of our churches were built on the blood of the martyrs at all times,” remembered one father. “We are very proud of our martyrs. They have lifted our heads and the heads of all Christians. The whole world witnesses them.”

A widow of one of the 21 said that she “hopes that the faith of my son…will be like the faith of his father.”

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We mourn both the deaths of these 21 Christian men and the brutality behind their execution. ISIS and other extremist groups like them continue to target, torture, and kill Christian men and women who dare to stand up for their faith. This anniversary, however, demonstrates the faith of the surviving family members. Their patience, hope, and love continue to stand as an example for the global Church.”

Source: International Christian Concern



Ray Barnett’s Prayer Appeal for Aleppo

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Hello from Ray Barnett – please share, thank you

Posted by Friends In The West on Wednesday, 9 November 2016

SYRIA: PASTOR ALIM’S CHOICE TO FACE DANGER – LIVING IN ALEPPO

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Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the country’s raging war, is in the grip of continuous violence. East Aleppo is bombed almost daily by Syrian and Russian air forces; its west is frequently shelled by the rebels from the east.

Only a small number of the more than 200,000 ‘pre-war’ Christians remain in the city: some church leaders say it’s only 20,000 to 40,000. One of them is Pastor Alim*. His congregation is helping up to 2,000 needy families each month – Muslims and Christians – through a team of motivated people.

INSTABILITY IN ALEPPO: A DIVIDED CITY

“The situation in Aleppo has been unstable for a long time now,” Alim explains. “Ceasefires only last for a short time. As soon as the people catch breath, the fighting starts again.”

His city is divided; he is in the part controlled by the government. “Many women and children from the other part have come to our area. Our church is able to help a total of 2,000 families; I think half of them are Muslims.”

Alim’s church offers food and other necessities. “We help some of them pay their rent and offer towards their medical needs. Our church has dug a well to provide clean drinking water,” he adds.

War is an ever present reality. “The other day, as we finished our meeting on Friday, a bomb exploded next to the church, killing a young girl and her brother. On Sunday, when we were getting ready for church, bombs exploded around our house,” said Alim.

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September saw a lull in fighting. People started to prepare for school.

Then the bombing started again. “I couldn’t send my children to school. We had high expectations of a ceasefire, but they didn’t last. People get really depressed; they feel there is no hope.”

THE ‘FRONTLINE’

“We used to live on the fourth floor, very close to the frontline, the so-called ‘red line’. We moved further away to my parents’ house. Shortly after, a rocket hit very close to our apartment. One of our relatives died, shrapnel hit our house and broke through the walls.”

Alim can’t bring himself to imagine the scene if his children had been there, playing, at the moment of impact. “Every day we hear of someone who has died, every day we are surrounded by death. We feel the pain, but for those who died we cannot do anything. We can make a difference for the living, we can help them.”

Beyond the clouds of war, Alim can see a silver lining: “Because of the crisis, bridges are being built with people we never had contact with before. We started visiting families, we organise camps for children who are not Christians, and their mothers also come.”

Recently there was another influx of displaced people from other areas in Aleppo; some displaced for the second time. “They stayed in schools, mosques and in unfinished buildings. Our church took the initiative to visit them,” Alim recalled.

“What we see and hear is often heart-breaking. Yet these people now see what the church does. There is now a greater appreciation for its role. Before, people reacted differently towards the church. Before, as we were distributing food, we heard people saying: ‘Here come the infidels’: now people are different.”

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HARD DECISIONS

Choosing to stay is never easy.

“Two of my brothers are living in Germany. They put a lot of pressure on us to come and join them,” Alim says.

“I feel a calling of God. He wants me to be here till the end, as long as there is work to do in Aleppo. It wasn’t an easy decision. My wife has the same calling. I tried to persuade her to move to a safer area. She didn’t want to; she wants to be with me.

“Our son was five when the war started. He had a kind of break from the war in another safer area in Syria. When he was there, he didn’t want to come back home to hear the sound of explosions. This summer we again spent some time with the family in a safer area. He had nightmares because of the bombs.”

Despite too many unanswered questions, Alim says his flock find a new depth of faith. “We have passed through very difficult situations, we don’t know why we feel such a peace and hope! I think God is giving us double grace. That’s why I don’t feel ‘seduced’ to leave – although doors are open for me…”

images3DREAMS AND VISIONS

Alim shares how faith and the church are changing in his nation: “There is hunger to come closer to God! There is hunger for the prayer meetings for example. Now the whole congregation comes to these meetings,” he explains. “The church is full of people praying.”

Nor is that ‘hunger’ only felt by Christians.

“It happens more with the Muslims and the Druze. God is speaking the language of each group. Muslims meet Jesus in dreams. A woman saw a man in a dream, he was dressed in white and his face was shining. She woke up and went to church, she was very afraid of being rejected. She was accepted with love.”

Several news media have reported that numbers of ex-Muslim refugees in Europe are ‘coming out’ as Christians. Alim says the seeds of such change have started long before that – on home soil in Syria.

“Before the war, authorities put a lot of pressure on Muslim converts, investigating and interrogating them. We continued serving them, went with them to the police, and because of that they felt the church didn’t leave them.

THE CHANGING FACE OF THE CHURCH

“Before the war, we were a church with 150 to 200 members. Now the number is the same, but most of them are new. Each year we baptise some 15 to 20 people – and an equal number are new believers who cannot be baptised because of community pressure,” Alim says.

Yet the loss of traditional, historical Christianity leaves a big cultural impact on the country. “I think that in Aleppo only 30,000 Christians remain; about 20 per cent of the pre-war figure.

“If all the Christians left Syria, the situation wouldn’t be the same. Christians maintain a balance in society, it is essential for us to stay.”

Still the urge for normalcy persists: “People want to take a breath. They want rest! Pray for an agreement to end the fighting so that we can live a normal life again,” says the pastor.

Source: Open Doors



SYRIA: STORIES FROM ALEPPO

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Displaced Syrian girl

“A ceasefire is a lie unfortunately. Always know that, even if there is a ceasefire, the rockets and mortars are there. And when there is no ceasefire, the rockets and mortars are there. And life is going on in Aleppo.”

Those are the recent words of one of our Syrian contacts. The collapse of the week-long ceasefire in Aleppo last week, and the subsequent intensifying of the military campaign by the Syrian government, has seen hundreds die in just a few days. So where is the hope?

These are the stories of Christians who have fled from Aleppo. Some share of the challenges they face, but they also share of the hope and trust they have in God.

Displaced in Damascus – “Yet another missile fell”

“What has happened to our city?” laments an Open Doors contact from Aleppo. “This is what happened a couple of days before I left for Damascus: I was on my way to see my ailing mother and my aunt. Earlier in the afternoon a missile had hit the third floor of their building and one of their neighbors had been killed. Yes, people were already bemoaning such a loss and there was so much going on in people’s minds and hearts.

“As I approached the house, another missile fell on a person who collapsed on the ground, seemingly dead, right in front of me. I ran towards the person, but I was shocked to see that people all around didn’t seem to react at all. It looked as if not a single person reacted to the tragic loss of yet another neighbour, or at least co-citizen, who was no more with us. I just couldn’t believe that my neighbours and friends had become people with no feelings or emotions. No reaction whatsoever in a place that, some years ago, would have seen people rush down from their apartments and people from everywhere run to help.

“Just then, yet another missile fell close to us – and nobody even turned to look where it had fallen. They all went about their daily duties in a life where life and death are intertwined and they are both filled with the same emptiness… During those moments, I knew what trauma means and what war and violence bring about in people’s lives.

“I wanted to share this little story with you to pray even more for us. I don’t know what’s happening to us. I just know that God is good and He loves us!”

Pastor B – “Seven hundred Christian families came”

Pastor B is an Open Doors partner from Tartus, Syria. He and his church team now supply relief packs to 2,000 families in ten different locations. When fighting gets fierce in Syria, his city sometimes faces sudden new influxes of families.

“A lot of families fled to what are considered ‘safe areas’,” Pastor B told us. “In just fifteen days, no less than 700 Christian families and a similar number of Muslim families came from Aleppo to Tartus and Mashta al Helou. These families tried to flee to Turkey, but they were unable to do so.”

Pastor B tells the people’s reaction following another bomb attack: “After the attack I observed how people were moving. The signs of fear were obvious on their faces. I saw mothers racing to the schools to get their children. However, as they were going, the city was completely shut down by security forces. This caused even a greater fear and anger. I could not hold my tears…

“Pray for these newly arrived people, that they will get the support they need. We ask for your prayers for wisdom how to best manage this drastic increase of internally displaced people. Syria witnessed an increase in [food] prices to levels we haven’t seen before.”

Kristina – “Muslims are coming to church now”

Kristina – like many other Syrian Christians – left her home church in Aleppo to flee to a safer area. “In my church, now only ten per cent of the regular church-goers are left,” Kristina explains, talking about her church back in Aleppo. “But you know what’s surprising? The church is still filled with people: refugees take their place. Muslims are coming to the church now.”

War and Islamic extremism have caused millions to flee from Syria, while millions of others are displaced within the region, struggling to survive, often too poor or unwell to leave. Though Christians face the added threat of being targeted by Islamic extremists, many are choosing to stay and serve their communities. They believe they have a vital role to play in rebuilding their nations.

Source: Open Doors



Islamic State committing genocide against Yazidis, says UN

UN human rights investigators have for the first time accused so-called Islamic State of committing genocide against Yazidis in Iraq and Syria.

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Thousands of Yazidis fled Iraq’s Sinjar region on foot when IS militants attacked in August 2014

A report says IS has subjected members of the religious group it has captured to the “most horrific of atrocities”, killing or enslaving thousands.

The group’s aim is to completely erase the Yazidi way of life, it warns.

The report says major powers should do more to help the Yazidis, at least 3,200 of whom are being held by IS.

IS, a Sunni jihadist group, regards Yazidis as devil-worshippers who may be killed or enslaved with impunity.

In August 2014, IS militants swept across north-western Iraq and rounded up thousands of Yazidis living in the Sinjar region, where the majority of the world’s Yazidi population was based.

Men and boys over the age of 12 were separated from women and girls and shot if they refused to convert “in order to destroy their identity as Yazidis”, according to the report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Women and children often witnessed the killings before being forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq and later Syria, where the majority of the captives remain and are subjected to “almost unimaginable horrors”, the report says.

Thousands of women and girls, some as young as nine, were treated as “spoils of war” and openly sold in slave markets or handed over as “gifts” to IS militants.

“Survivors who escaped from [IS] captivity in Syria describe how they endured brutal rapes, often on a daily basis, and were punished if they tried to escape with severe beatings, and sometimes gang rapes,” said commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.

How the UN defines genocide

Article II of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention says genocide means any of the following acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. They are:

Killing members of the group.

Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

What is genocide?

The commission also heard accounts of how some Yazidi women killed themselves to escape the abuse.

Young children bought and held with their mothers are beaten by their owners, and subjected to the same poor living conditions, according to the report.

Yazidi boys older than seven are forcibly removed from their mothers’ care and transferred to IS camps, where they are indoctrinated and receive military training.

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The commission of inquiry says IS had made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis

One boy taken for training told the commission his IS commander had warned him: “Even if you see your father, if he is still Yazidi, you must kill him.”

“[IS] has made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, and that is one of the elements that allowed us to conclude their actions amount to genocide”, said commissioner Carla Del Ponte.

Warning that the genocide was “ongoing”, commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro stressed that there must be no impunity for crimes of this nature.

He repeated the commission’s call for the UN Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), or to establish an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute “the myriad violations” of international law during the five-year civil war in the country.

The commission also called for international recognition of the genocide, and stated that more must be done to assure the protection of Yazidis in the Middle East.

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Carla del Ponte and Paulo Pinheiro from the Commission of Inquiry into rights violations in Syria, at a press conference in Geneva. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Paulo Pinheiro, who heads a UN Commission of Inquiry report into abuses in the war-torn country, said that “every Yazidi man, woman and child” captured by the group has been subjected to “the most horrific of atrocities”.

According to the report, men and teenage boys have been shot, while thousands of women and girls are still being held captive by ISIl fighters and sold as slaves.

In the podcast below, Daniel Johnson reports from Geneva.

Podcast duration: 2:41

Source: BBC News and UN



Islamic State: Killings of civilians rises in Falluja, says UN

An increasing number of men and older boys are being killed in the besieged Iraqi city of Falluja for refusing to fight for so-called Islamic State (IS), the UN has warned.

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Only a few hundred of the thousands trapped in Fallujah have reportedly escaped as the city faces dire conditions

Government forces are currently trying to recapture the city from IS, one of its two remaining Iraqi strongholds.

About 50,000 civilians are trapped and supplies are so low there are reports people have starved to death.

Those that have been able to flee have described dire conditions inside.

“We have dramatic reports of the increase of the number of executions of men and older boys, refusing to fight on behalf of Isil,” said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, using an alternative acronym for IS.

“Other reports say a number of people attempting to depart have been executed, or whipped. One man’s leg was amputated reportedly.”

With routes out of the city cut off and IS preventing people from leaving, the UN says only about 800 people have escaped in recent days.
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The Norwegian Refugee Council, who spoke to some of the families who fled, said the situation there was “critical”.

“It’s imperative that the warring parties give the thousands of women, men and children a safe exit now, and allow aid to reach the most vulnerable,” the NRC’s Country Director in Iraq, Nasr Muflahi, said.

Falluja fell to IS in 2014, a key moment in its rise that saw it declare a caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

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Mohammed and his family fled Falluja on Sunday, walking through the desert to a refugee camp. This is what he told the NRC.

The Iraqi government, backed by US air power, launched its offensive to retake Falluja earlier this week, and is reportedly battling the militants in surrounding villages.

“Hunger was our main motive to flee, as well as the constant fear of Isis (Islamic State).

“Last time we ate rice was four months ago, but we were not the worst off. Others have had no food for much longer.

“For the past months we fed on dried dates. It was rotting, stale dates that we could find, so we had to dry it in the sun to remove the bad smell before eating it.

“We got our drinking water directly from the river. But only those families with men who have bicycles have this privilege to fetch the river water. It’s considered better than the water from the agricultural network.

“Those channels are salty, dirty and they found animal carcasses floating in them. It’s used for cleaning and bathing, but those without men and bicycles end up drinking it too.”

 

Source: BBC News