Wednesday, July 1, 2015

RLPB 316. ISRAEL: ISIS threatens Christians in Jerusalem

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 316 | Wed 01 Jul 2015

ISRAEL: ISIS THREATENS CHRISTIANS IN JERUSALEM

By Elizabeth Kendal

THREAT: In the last week of June Arabic fliers appeared in Jerusalem, purportedly issued by the ISIS-aligned Egyptian (Sinai-based) group Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem/Al-Aqsa). The fliers, which accuse Christians of 'collaborating with Zionists' and 'encouraging Muslims to leave their religion', give Christians until the end of Ramadan to flee the city -- otherwise they will be killed. 'ISIS soldiers will work to kill these people so this country is clean of them and ... will clean [purify] this country and the Muslim Quarter from these Christians during this holy Ramadan. ... So we tell our Christians and the non-believers: Go away now or you will be killed when the Eid [al Fitr festival ending Ramadan on Saturday 18 July] is near. And you will be slaughtered like the sheep. One month is enough for them to go away.' The fliers also ask that like-minded Muslims provide the group with the addresses of Christians.

CONTEXT: A serious ideological and power struggle is currently under way between ISIS (which is vehemently anti-Shi'ite) and Hamas which, like al-Qaeda and numerous other Sunni 'resistance' groups, is prepared to co-operate with Iran (leader of the Shi'ite dominated Axis of Resistance). On 1 April ISIS seized control of Yarmouk (a Palestinian area of Damascus, Syria), beheaded Hamas leaders and crushed the Hamas leadership. Hamas threatened revenge and on 6 April arrested a Salafist cleric in Gaza believed to have ties with ISIS. Then on 3 May, as tensions escalated, Hamas forces bulldozed Gaza's 'Mosque Almtahabin', which is controlled by the ISIS-aligned Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), arresting seven of its leaders. ISIS/ABM responded by bombing Hamas' headquarters in Gaza and accusing Hamas of working for the Israelis.

Some observers are dismissing the ISIS/ABM leaflets as a prank aimed at intimidation, noting that Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) is small and ISIS has minimal presence in Israel. Making no reference to ISIS/ABM or Christians, Palestinian authorities merely denounced any effort to hurt 'the unity of the Palestinian people'. While commentators debate the significance of the threat, ISIS/ABM has nearly three weeks to incite and organise the already radicalised Muslim youths. Set as it is in the context of the Hamas v ISIS struggle for the affection of Palestinian Arab Muslims, the threat must be taken seriously. Since ISIS has killed Coptic Christians to attract militant Egyptian Muslims and killed Ethiopian Christians to attract militant Somali Muslims, then ISIS may well facilitate the killing of Arab Christians to attract militant Palestinian Arab Muslims. This Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin ministry is taking this threat very seriously indeed.

Billboard outside the Church of the Annunciation,
Nazareth (pre Jan 2014)

quotes Qur'an, Sura 3:85, labeling Christians as 'losers'.
[note the ISIS flag - photo 2013]
Before the ISIS/ABM threat even emerged, Rami Fellemon, a Palestinian Christian and director of Jerusalem Evangelistic Outreach headquartered in East Jerusalem, had told Morning Star News (MSN) that Muslim-Christian relations were breaking down and being replaced with 'a definite us versus them mentality from Islamic extremists'. This trend is being observed not only in the Palestinian-administered Territories, but in Israeli towns such as the mostly Muslim town of Nazareth where a billboard right outside the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation quotes Surah 4:171  threateningly warning Christians against saying God has a son.

New billboard
On 1 May 2015 an imam at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, Sheikh Issam Ameera, posted a video sermon on-line entitled 'The Islamic State is the keeper of religion and state', in which he incites Muslims to fight Jews and Christians. After a minor disagreement three days later, up to 80 Muslim youths rioted against Christians in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, pelting rocks at Christians' homes and attacking an Ethiopian monastery. According to MSN, whilst Muslim elders are trying to keep the peace, the youths grow more radical by the day.

With Hamas firing rockets from the south and Hezbollah building up its arsenal (estimated at over 100,000 rockets) to the north, religious tensions and anxieties are rising across Israel. Consequently, Christians are suffering attacks not only from radicalised Muslims and ISIS-sympathisers, but from Jewish ultra-nationalists as well.
click here for pictures and video
MSN reports: 'Before dawn on Thursday (June 18) someone set fire to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, a Roman Catholic church run by Benedictine monks on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Tabgha village.' The property was extensively damaged and many books lost in what police have labelled a 'religiously motivated arson attack'. Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall read: 'Idol worshippers will be eliminated.' Sixteen Jewish youths were taken in for questioning over the incident which left an 80-year-old monk and a young German volunteer worker with injuries requiring hospitalisation. Local Christians are feeling apprehensive and insecure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a swift investigation into what he called an 'outrageous arson attack' that amounted to 'an attack on us all'. He affirmed, 'Freedom of worship in Israel is one of our core values and is guaranteed under the law. We will bring to justice those responsible for this crime. Hate and intolerance have no place in our society.' Dealing with the ISIS threat to Jerusalem's Christians could prove challenging. Any threat to Christians in Gaza, where there is no Israeli security presence, would be even more so.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* guide and assist the Israeli government and security forces, that they will protect Christians from Jewish ultra-nationalists and the far more dangerous ISIS-incited and organised militant Muslims.

* guide, assist, deliver and protect Christians in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, as well as in East Jerusalem and across the whole city, throughout the Palestinian-administered Territories and other Muslim-dominated regions, and in volatile towns such as Nazareth and Bethlehem.

* insert himself deep into Gaza, where there is no Israeli security presence; may Christians not be left at the mercy of Hamas, but may the Spirit of God guide and assist Christians who, in the event of an eruption of anti-Christian violence, will require hiding places and escape routes.

'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way. ... There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved ...' (excerpts from Psalm 46 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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ISIS THREATENS CHRISTIANS IN JERUSALEM

Arabic leaflets have appeared in Jerusalem, purportedly issued by an ISIS-aligned group, telling Christians they must flee Jerusalem by the end of Ramadan [18 July] -- otherwise they will be slaughtered. The threat comes as ISIS and Hamas engage in a struggle for the allegiance of Palestinian Muslims. Religious tensions are rising across Israel and Christians are being attacked by Jewish ultra-nationalists and radicalised Muslims, leaving some wondering if Christians have a future in Israel. The Israeli government has condemned the violence against Christians as 'an attack on us all' and affirmed Israel's commitment to religious liberty and rule of law. The ISIS threat against Christians could prove a serious challenge, especially if it extends to Gaza, with no Israeli security presence. Please pray for Israel and its Christians.

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


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RLPB 315. June Update, Incl. Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mesopotamia, Syria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 315 | Wed 24 Jun 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

JUNE 2015 UPDATE -- During June we prayed concerning...

* EGYPT (RLPB 312), where despite all assurances from the government, the indigenous Christian Copts are treated as dhimmis (second class citizens). Denied legal rights, the Copts are powerless and defenceless in the face of escalating religious intolerance in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds. We prayed also for Bishoy Armia (formerly Mohamed Hegazy), a Muslim convert to Christianity. In prison (again), Bishoy is being deprived of his Bible and nobody but his lawyer is permitted to see him. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV).

* UZBEKISTAN (RLPB 313), where repressive legislation aimed primarily at controlling militant Islam and maintaining social cohesion is used extensively against Protestant Christians. The resurgence of Cold War tensions causes Russia-allied governments to deem Protestants potentially hostile, while the tendency of Protestants to witness to Muslims causes authorities to deem them problematic. For the dictatorial regimes of exceedingly volatile Central Asia, everything (including religious liberty) is defined with a view to stability. These are difficult days for Central Asia's Protestants.

* PRISONERS (RLPB 314), remembering especially the Reverends Yat Michael and Peter Reith in Sudan, as well as numerous Christian pastors and evangelists imprisoned in Iran -- especially those who have had their sentence extended or who have been transferred to the ultra-violent maximum security Rajai Shahr Prison.

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

JUNE 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* BOKO HARAM: REGIONAL BATTLE LOOMS

States involved in multinational force;
showing location of Maiduguri,
Diffa and N'Djamena
In early June Nigeria's new president, Muhammadu Buhari, moved the command centre for the military operation against Boko Haram from the capital Abuja, to the Borno capital, Maiduguri: i.e. into the heart of the conflict zone. In a subsequent meeting, the leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin ‎agreed to set up the headquarters of the 8700-strong multinational force to fight Boko Haram in N'Djamena, the Chadian capital. The multinational force [see RLPB 296 (10 Feb)] is scheduled to begin operations on 30 July. Boko Haram has responded by escalating its attacks.

NIGERIA (51 percent Christian; 45 percent Muslim).
On 22 June two teenage girls were deployed as suicide bombers in a crowded market area of Maiduguri. One girl exploded near a mosque, killing about 30 people; the other girl ran from the market, screaming as she went. Nobody else was killed when she exploded. As in other cases where young girls are used, these girls were most probably remotely detonated. There is grave concern that Boko Haram is strapping explosives to kidnapped girls, specifically kidnapped Christian girls. It was the fourth suicide bombing in Maiduguri this month.

NIGER (97 percent Muslim; 0.3 percent Christian).
On  17 June Boko Haram jihadist gunmen attacked Ungumawo and Lamina villages in Diffa, south-east Niger, killing at least 38 people as well as burning homes and property.

CHAD (53 percent Muslim; 39 percent Christian).
On 15 June Boko Haram suicide bombers on motor bikes rode into N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, exploding outside the national police academy and another police facility, killing at least 37 people and wounding more than 100. Following a directive of Chadian President Idriss Deby, Prime Minister Kalzeube Pahimi Deubet declared an immediate ban on the burqa (full body and face covering) which he said had no history in Chadian culture and was being used as 'camouflage'. Security forces were sent into the markets to seize all burqas and burn them. The proudly secular government also launched a crackdown on 'foreigners' and launched air-strikes on at least six suspected Boko Haram positions inside Nigeria.

* MESOPOTAMIA (Syria and Iraq): CHRISTIANS EXISTENTIALLY IMPERILLED

Long War Journal (LWJ) has identified a total of 117 jihadist training camps across Mesopotamia, 85 in Syria and 32 in Iraq. At least eleven of those camps are used exclusively to indoctrinate and provide military training to children. Whilst some camps might be closed and others have been hit in coalition air-strikes, LWJ acknowledges there are doubtless many other camps that have not been advertised or identified. According to LWJ, Islamic State has operated 57 camps (30 in Iraq, 27 in Syria) and al-Qaeda's Al-Nusra Front has operated 23 camps inside Syria. A further 37 other camps (35 in Syria and two in Iraq) are run by other groups, including ethnic groups.  There are eleven camps for jihadists from the Caucuses (South Russia), four Uzbek camps, two Uighur camps, as well as Gazan, Moroccan and Kazak camps. While this presents an enormous threat to global security, it presents an even more immediate and existential threat to the Christians of Mesopotamia. Today, Mesopotamia's mostly Assyrian Christian remnant is hunkered down behind heavy security, mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan behind the peshmerger (Kurdish forces), and in government-controlled areas of Syria behind the SAA (Syrian Arab Army).

SYRIA: As they did in Idlib [see RLPB 303 (1 April)], rebel (non-ISIS) forces have united in a 'single operations room' for the purpose of storming Aleppo. However, according to al-Monitor, the alliance's foreign backers -- Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- did not include al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front. [This alliance does, however, include the US-backed Free Syrian Army.]

Pastor Eduard Petrosyan
On 15 June more than 300 rebel rockets rained down on Aleppo, killing 42 civilians and wounding more than 200. Despite having access to US-made anti-tank guided missiles, the rebels were not able to storm the city but were driven back by the SAA. When al-Nusra led the storming of Idlib, the first layer of attack was conducted by waves of suicide bombers. This layer was missing in the 15 June attack on Aleppo. Rebel shelling continues; two Armenians died when Qasser al-Baladi municipality was shelled on 20 June; they were Pastor Eduard Petrosyan, a missionary from the Word of Life Church of Armenia, and Garo Megerdichian (Abu Hagop) of Aleppo. The SAA is fighting back, mostly from the sky. The rebels will doubtless move to restore the siege around the government-held areas of Aleppo, which is still home to thousands of Armenian and Assyrian Christians. They may even seek to have al-Nusra brought into the alliance. Meanwhile, ISIS fighters are poised north of the city. If the rebels do manage to drive back government forces (which we pray they do not) ISIS will doubtless move in to absorb or overthrow the rebels. Pray for the Christians of Aleppo.

'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.' (Psalm 57:1-2 ESV)

* TURKEY: ISLAMISATION AND RADICALISATION FUEL TENSION

Hagia Sophia as seen
 from Kadikoy pier
 Tensions are escalating over calls to open the 6th Century Byzantine Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) church as a mosque. When Ottoman Turks conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, they immediately turned the church into a mosque. World War One culminated in the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. In 1924 the Caliphate was dissolved and in 1935 the now UNESCO World Heritage listed Hagia Sophia was opened as a Museum. As fundamentalist Islam has revived, calls to open the former church to Muslim worship grow louder. On 24 May [i.e. just ahead of 'Conquest Day' -- see RLPB 213 (5 June 2013)], hundreds of Muslims protested outside the church, demanding it be opened as a mosque. Some pious Turks are asserting that the conquest is not complete until all traces of Christian heritage are erased. On the evening of 9 June in an attack that may or may not be related to the Hagia Sophia issue, a Muslim screaming 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greater) set fire to a door at the Hagia Triada (Holy Trinity) Orthodox Church in Kadikoy, Istanbul (just across the Bosphorus Strait from the Hagia Sophia). While damage was minimal, church members are understandably anxious. Pray for the Church in Turkey.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).