Christians Aid Sunni Syrian Refugees

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Sacrificial Love of Lebanon’s Christians

Reaching out to a million Muslim Syrian refugees.

By  - American Spectator

I recently returned from the Middle East, where I captured stories for a film project about Christians living their faith in the face of crippling persecution. In Beirut, Lebanon, I spoke with two Lebanese Christians, Georges Maalouly — a 48-year old, Orthodox father of three — and his friend Father Joseph — a priest at St. Tetla’s Catholic Church. They explained how Christians in Lebanon are coping with the arrival of more than a million refugees from Syria.

Most Syrian exiles are Sunni Muslims, and their arrival has started to drastically alter Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. Economically, Syrian workers are driving down wages, and refugees place a severe burden on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. Despite this, many Lebanese Christians are choosing to help meet the needs of these refugees.

Syrian refugees in the Lebanese winter.

Syrian refugees in the Lebanese winter.

Jordan: The civil war in Syria has been raging for over three years. How has the conflict affected the Lebanese people? What challenges have you faced? How do you balance fear and compassion?

Fr. Joseph: In the last five to ten years we have had so many people coming from Iraq and now Syria and they have not found many opportunities. But we have done many things to help both Muslims and Christians. We pray with them, we adopt them, we encourage them and we feed them. We will always be here for them.

Georges: If we think in a political way, it’s difficult for the Christians of Lebanon to absorb a high number of Muslim refugees because then they will become the majority and everybody knows that it is the wish of other Middle Eastern Muslim countries to transform Lebanon from a Christian country to a Muslim country. In this way Christians will lose all their rights and will not stay free. Also, Muslim refugees will get all the job opportunities and our salaries will become low and prices for food and housing will rise. Despite this, we are ready to receive the Muslim refugees and host them and help them in order to show the love and mercy of Jesus.

Tetla Atipa Convent

Tetla Atipa Convent

Jordan: Georges, a majority of the Syrian people are victims of both the authoritarian dictatorship of Assad and the Al-Qaeda led rebels, many of whom are not Syrian but foreign fighters from the Gulf Arab States, among others. What have you and those around you done to help the refugees?

Georges: As a Christian man, I adore Jesus Christ and I try to transmit his light to others and try to let him shine through me so that every soul that comes into contact with me may feel his presence. I’m trying to preach not by words only, but by my example, by the sympathetic influence of what I do.

We started a prayer circle with friends and family many years ago. The prayer circle became larger and grew to more than 50 people. We pray the rosary together and read the Psalms and the Bible. Also we gather money to help poor people as Jesus taught us. Both Muslims and Christians.

Nowadays we are also helping Muslim Syrian refugees, as some of them couldn’t get help from the Lebanese government. Our government offers some food and a tent as shelter, but it is not enough.

I have hosted three Syrian men at my home; they were refugees without money or food. We helped them find work, and, after a while, they were able to rent a studio apartment and move on. One of them is still with my family. He lost his father, who was killed in Damascus. We treat him as a son.

Jordan: Georges, could you tell us the story of Abed El Rahman and his two sons.

Georges: I saw a man who is called Abed El Rahman with two children living on the street inside an old broken car without food or any cover or money or even shoes. My prayer group gathered money on Christmas and we visited this Muslim family and offered to help them with all their needs. We were even able to deliver Christmas presents. They were very happy. We now visit them, as well as others, monthly to help them with food and other necessities.

Jordan: Fr. Joseph, how do you respond to those in your congregation who are scared of the influx of so many Syrian refugees?

Fr. Joseph: Recently I have had many Christians tell me that they are scared. “Of what?” I ask. “Of terrorists? Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Pray for them.” We must take on the example of Jesus Christ, Christianity’s first martyr. Even our church is named after St. Tetla, the Church’s first martyr! Let’s not forget, as St. Paul said, “We are to be persecuted, but not forsaken…because we know who is our shepherd.”

Syrian_refugees_in_Lebanon

Syrian refugee children in Lebanon

Jordan: Georges, you have family in Syria. How are they doing?

Georges: My wife’s family lives in Damascus, close by the village Kokaba, where St. Paul fell down from his horse when Jesus appeared to him in a vision. They are living day by day, they refuse to leave Syria and come to live with us. They are counting on God’s protection and St. George’s, the intercessor of their village.

Jordan: Fr. Joseph, what do you say to those who lose hope?

Fr. Joseph: We are in Lebanon and we will stay in Lebanon. Nobody will remove us. We will die here. The Turkish came to Lebanon and spent 400 years here. Then they left. Next, the Syrians came to Lebanon and then they left. We are still here. We have faith in this land.

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More Chemical WMD Attacks in Syria

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Syria rebels, government report poison gas attack

By Bassem Mroue – Yahoo News

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government media and rebel forces said Saturday that poison gas had been used in a central village, injuring scores of people, while blaming each other for the attack.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack Friday hurt dozens of people in the village of Kfar Zeita in the central province of Hama. It did not say what type of gas was used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, apparently conducted during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, killing two people and injuring more than 100.

FILE: Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image provided by the United media office of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.

FILE: Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image provided by the United media office of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.

The TV report claimed the Nusra Front is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. It did not explain how it knew the Nusra Front’s plans.

Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday.

An activist from Hama who is currently in Turkey and is on contact with activists and residents told The Associated Press that the attack occurred around sunset Friday. The man, who goes with the name Amir al-Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun have been witnessing intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

An amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with men and children, some of whom breathing through oxygen masks. On one bed, the video showed six children on a bed, some appearing to have difficulty breathing while others cried.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the attack.

Chemical weapons have been used before in Syria’s 3-year-old conflict. In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The U.S. and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and blamed rebels of staging the incident.

The Syrian National Coalition called on the United Nations to conduct a “quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria.” The coalition claimed that another chemical weapons attack Friday struck the Damascus suburb of Harasta, though state media did not report on it.

An international coalition aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals held by the Assad government by June 30 in the wake of the August attack. Syria’s government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. Assad’s government cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but has repeated that it remains fully committed to the process.

In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and one-time commercial center, the Observatory and state television reported intense clashes Saturday, mostly near a main intelligence office in the city’s contested neighborhood of Zahra.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported earlier Saturday that several mortar shells hit the government-held neighborhoods of Hamidiyeh and Khaldiyeh, killing at least six people and wounding 15.

Aleppo became a key front in the country’s civil war after rebels launched an offensive there in July 2012.

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Middle East has decided it can no longer rely on America

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Editor‘s Note - In a stunning development, one obviously prompted by tensions between the US and the gulf oil states, many Sunni states were represented in Kuwait at a summit that focused on mutual defense because of the rise of Iran’s attempts at regional hegemony. The Middle East has decided it can no longer rely on America.

The timing was also important as Iran actually walked out of talks with the US and the west as reported Friday Alakhbar English:

Iran has quit nuclear talks with world powers, accusing Washington on Friday of going against the spirit of a landmark agreement reached last month by expanding its sanctions blacklist.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the major powers in the talks, both played down the suspension and said talks were expected to resume soon.

But Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said the US move went against the spirit of the deal struck in Geneva under which the powers undertook to impose no further sanctions for six months in exchange for Iran curbing its controversial nuclear activities.

In addition to creating their own joint military command, they called for interlopers, the rival foreign militias in Syria to leave the theater:

Gulf Arab states demanded foreign militias quit Syria and said President Bashar al-Assad must have no future role Wednesday, in a declaration his Iran- and Hezbollah-backed regime denounced as meddling. Wrapping up a two-day annual summit in Kuwait City, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s leaders welcomed what they described as the new Iranian government’s shift to a positive policy toward the six-nation bloc.

The GCC leaders also approved the formation of a joint military command, but postponed a decision on a proposed union. Adopting a firm stance on Syria, the GCC “strongly condemned the continued genocide that Assad’s regime is committing against the Syrian people using heavy and chemical weapons.” It called “for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria,” in a clear reference to Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement which are supporting Assad’s troops against Sunni-led rebels. (Read more at Arab Times.)

Once again we see more evidence that the foreign policy of the Obama Administration and Secretary of State John Kerry has been an abject failure regarding Iran and Syria. John Kerry can play it down and use appeasing words, but he has been ‘punked’ once again. It must be asked again, what is Obama’s actual policy on any aspect of the Middle East?

Israeli/Palestinian talks – failure; Syria ‘red line’ – failure; Iran nuclear program/sanctions talks – failure; supporting the MB in Egypt – failure; reset with Russia – failure; failure after failure, and it reaches beyond to Afghanistan, China, and North Korea to name but a few. In fact, his foreign policy, and that of his last two Secretaries of State and UN Ambassadors – abject failures.

America is now less than a ‘paper tiger! Cross posted at StandUpAmericaUS.org, please read on:

Gulf nations to create joint military command

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab neighbors wrapped up a summit meeting in Kuwait on Wednesday by agreeing to establish a joint military command, paving the way for tighter security coordination even as their regional rival Iran pursues outreach efforts in the wake of its interim nuclear deal.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also agreed to lay the foundations for a joint Gulf police force and a strategic studies academy, according to a summary of the group’s closing statement carried by the official Kuwait News Agency.

Gulf Nations Summit

Taken together, the initiatives suggest that the U.S.-allied Gulf states are seeking to do more to ensure their collective security amid the prospect of warmer relations between Iran and the West. The Islamic Republic agreed last month to freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from Western economic sanctions.

Many in the Gulf remain wary of Tehran’s intentions. Saudi Arabia in particular sees a stronger Iran as a threat to its own influence, and it and other Gulf states are major backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government is backed by Iran. [Read more...]

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Al-Qaeda at 25

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Bin Laden is dead but the bad idea behind his terrorist organization lives on

By Stewart Post – National Post

As the Soviet army was preparing to limp out of Afghanistan a quarter-century ago after eight pointless years, Osama bin Laden and his hardline Egyptian allies gathered in northwest Pakistan to ask: what next?

The radical Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam wanted the Arabs who had fought the Soviets to take their battle to Israel. But what emerged from that three-day confab at bin Laden’s house was something far more ambitious.

Like boys forming a secret club, they drafted membership rules, an oath and a vague mission statement: “Al-Qaeda is basically an organized Islamic faction,” they wrote. “Its goal will be to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious.”

The 25th anniversary of Al-Qaeda is, if nothing else, a milestone to the perseverance of a bad idea. Bin Laden is dead and his terrorist training camps are gone. But the notion that an army of religious fanatics can reorder the world through unrelenting violence has proven persistent.

Al-Qaeda was conceived as “a vehicle to promote a global jihadi revolution,” said Prof. Bruce Hoffman, director of the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. “And I think it’s still going on. It’s changed, of course, but I think Al-Qaeda was always as much an idea as an organization. And what we see is that the idea, unfortunately, still has considerable resiliency.”

While Al-Qaeda’s central command in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated since the 9/11 attacks, it has spawned affiliates in pockets of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where self-appointed soldiers of God have hijacked local conflicts and aligned them with Al-Qaeda’s global agenda.

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has “absorbed or merged” with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, Prof. Martin Rudner of Carleton University wrote in a paper published this month in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. “In the words of a high ranking British intelligence official, ‘Al-Qaeda has split like a piece of mercury into different groups in different countries,’” he wrote.

Al-Qaeda had 15 members when it launched in the fall of 1988. What the founders envisioned was a base — al-qaeda, in Arabic — for their Egyptian-inspired ideology, which combines armed militancy with a claim to divine legitimacy.

What may have been its first act of terrorism occurred a year later, when Azzam was killed by a car bomb in Peshawar, eliminating bin Laden’s chief ideological rival. It was another nine years before bin Laden issued his infamous call to action, in which he urged the killing of “Americans and their allies, civilians and military,” and said it was “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country.”

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks established the Al-Qaeda brand but if its larger strategy was to become the doctrinal headquarters for a global conflict, it has accomplished that. “I would say that it’s proven to be a tremendous success. It’s outlived its founder and leader, and that in and of itself is proof of its viability and vitality,” Prof. Hoffman said. “At the end of 2013, it’s a thriving enterprise.”

Wherever they have popped up, Al-Qaeda fighters have succeeded by being the most militant, dogmatic fighters on the battlefield. They have deliberately targeted civilians, eliminated rival factions that challenged them and mastered the use of propaganda to tap popular discontent and perversely cloak their political agenda in religious terms, quoting from scripture to justify horrific violence.

Many had hoped the Arab Spring would be the end of Al-Qaeda, which was irrelevant as popular protest brought down one Middle East regime after another — something decades of terrorist violence had failed to accomplish.

For a while, Al-Qaeda stumbled around in Mali and Yemen. Its affiliates pulled off high-profile attacks at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, an Algerian gas plant and Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall. But it was the Syrian conflict that put Al-Qaeda “back in the game,” as a declassified Canadian Security Intelligence Service report put it.

Extremist factions that follow Al-Qaeda doctrine — notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Al Nusrah Front — are entrenched in Syria now, and they have brought with them suicide bombings, beheadings, and their aggressive version of Islamic law, forcing women, for example, to wear only the black head-to-toe robes of ultraconservatives.

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has "absorbed or merged" with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, a recent journal article noted. - Romaric Ollo Hien/AFP/Getty Images

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has “absorbed or merged” with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, a recent journal article noted. – Romaric Ollo Hien/AFP/Getty Images

“They are mostly foreigners coming to impose their ideologies on us,” a Syrian who was tortured by ISIL members in Raqqa province, told the BBC this week. His crime: he was deemed a “non-believer” for supporting secularism. [Read more...]

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‘Syria is not a revolution any more – this is civil war’

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Rivalry between rebels and Islamists has replaced the uprising’s lofty ideals

Leaving veteran commanders despairing

 reports from Turkey and Syria - The Guardian

For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. The goals of the first war – freedom, Islam, social equality of some sort – were replaced by betrayal, defeat and anger towards rival militias, jihadis and foreign powers fighting in Syria.

A Free Syrian Army fighter in front of a burning barricade in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood, Damascus

A Free Syrian Army fighter in front of a burning barricade in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus, in January. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. The regime is far away, the jihadis are near – and seem unstoppable. Their resources are dwindling; their families are shattered. Their villages and farm lands are lost to regime militias. Their allies are at best unreliable, and at worst actively conspiring against them.

They are a businessman, a smuggler and an army defector who became respectively the political officer, treasurer and military commander of a once-formidable battalion in northern Syria.

The businessman is the shrewdest: a tall, wide-shouldered man with a square head and thinning hair. A devout Salafi, he was once a rich man in Homs, but after two and half years of war, most of his fortune has been spent on arms and ammunition. What remains of his wealth is being slowly drained by the families of his dead, injured and missing relatives, many of them languishing in refugee camps.

On a cold autumn evening he sat in the courtyard of a newly built concrete house on the Turkish side of the Syrian border – the latest in a string of temporary homes since his house was razed by the Syrian government in the early days of the revolution.

“I need Bashar [al-Assad] to last for two more years,” said the businessman. “It would be a disaster if the regime fell now: we would split into mini-states that would fight among each other. We’ll be massacring each other – tribes, Islamists and battalions.

“Maybe if the regime lasts for a few more years we can agree on the shape of the new Syria. At least then we might end up with three states rather than 10,” he said. Meanwhile, the killings and massacres will continue, until sectarian cleansing has been carried out in all of Syria’s cities and regions, he added. “There will be either Alawites or Sunnis. Either them or us. Maybe in 10 years we will all be bored with fighting and learn how to coexist.” He paused, then added: “In 10 years maybe, not now.”

The battalion that the three men were part of was once the darling of the rebels’ foreign backers: Qatari royalty, Saudi preachers and Kuwaiti MPs all donated money and funnelled weapons to them. The businessman regularly met Turkish military intelligence officers on the border who safeguarded his arms shipments from Mediterranean ports.

But as jihadi influence grew among the opposition forces, the battalion’s position came under threat. A clash – as much about resources as it was about ideology – was inevitable. A jihadi leader was assassinated and the battalion was forced from its footholds in the oil-rich east. Further divisions within the battalion followed and some of its men left to join other factions or set up their own.

Gulf dignitaries accused the three men of sowing dissent in the Muslim community and financial backers switched their support to other battalions with a stricter Islamic outlook.

As his brother spread out blankets on the porch, the businessman stared up at the night sky, and smoked his last cigarette of the day. “This is not a revolution against a regime any more, this is a civil war,” he said.

Posters of Bashar al-Assad are burned during a protest against his regime in April 2012, in Binnish. Photograph: John Cantlie/Getty Images

Posters of Bashar al-Assad are burned during a protest against his regime in April 2012, in Binnish. Photograph: John Cantlie/Getty Images

The next day, in a sparsely furnished living room with thinly whitewashed walls and bare wires sprouting from electrical sockets, the smuggler and the businessman sat on sofas and argued about a missing shipment of rockets. The smuggler had worked the secret routes across Lebanon’s border from the age of 11; he was shot at for the first time aged 12 and ran his own network when he was barely 17. He is proud never to have owned an ID card or a passport in his life. He fidgeted and moved constantly, tapping on his smartphone, buying arms, selling rockets, importing cars and arranging schooling for his many nephews and nieces.

He opened Google Earth on his phone, zooming in closer and closer until the screen showed a small grey square: the house where his family used to live. “Before, all my family was in Syria, and I worried about them. Now, they’ve got out but I have lost my land. I have reached a point of despair,” he said.

“I feel I can’t breathe. I have 20 people to look after – to feed them and school them – and it’s not a matter of months, but years. I was in the revolution at the beginning, and I used to think that was going to be progress – but now we have lost everything. We don’t talk about military plans and hitting the regime – now the plotting is against each other.”

Defection

The third man worked as a shepherd as a child, spending long weeks trekking alone with his sheep in the arid hills of southern Syria. School was a two-mile (3km) hike; like many young Bedouins from his region, he joined the military as soon as he graduated from high school. He eventually became a lieutenant.

Soon after the revolution began in early 2011, he defected, joining other rebel officers in the north. He made his reputation when his unit attacked an army base and captured several tanks. He became the commander of one the rebel forces’ first armoured battalions.

In those days, he was lean and tense, with a wispy Che Guevara beard; his looks and his heroism inspired devotion in his men. He read history books, and drew lessons from the Russian partisans’ tactics in the second world war.

Like most Bedouins, he spoke rarely, and when he did open his mouth, he was frank to the point of rudeness. But amid the chaos of civil war, he was keen to impose discipline: every morning he would drive around his base, inspecting his men’s uniforms and weapons. “How do you impose discipline?” he would muse. “There is nothing that can make your fighters do things if they don’t want to. There is no military order; I don’t pay them money and I can’t put them in jail. The bond between you and your men comes from battle: if they respect you as a fighter, they will follow you.”

After travelling into Syria, the businessman and the smuggler arrived where the lieutenant was staying with some of his men. They found him sitting on the floor, absorbed with his iPad, which was emitting a stream of battle sounds and explosive sound effects. Briefly, he raised his head to greet the other two, then returned to his computer game.

Dressed in a dirty white vest and combat trousers, he seemed much older.

The businessman and the smuggler sat down beside him, and a lunch of boiled potatoes in watery soup and rice was served. The lieutenant ate in silence and turned back to his iPad before finally addressing his two friends.

“I am now in an impossible situation. The army is ahead of me and they are surrounding from behind.”

Read More Here.

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