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ERBIL, IRAQ–Kurdistan in the north of Iraq has become a refuge for Christians and other religious minorities in the midst of the Islamic State’s murderous rampage. In response, the Republican-controlled House voted to designate the Islamic State’s murderous campaign against Christians and Yazidis as genocide.
It’s an ironic judgment from a body controlled by the political party most responsible for the rise of ISIS–absent George W. Bush’s foolhardy invasion of Iraq, the deadly movement would not even exist. Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry last week used the term for the first time regarding the Islamic State, declaring that it “is responsible for genocide against groups” including religious minorities.
The abundant crimes of Daesh, as it also is known, constitute an unprecedented religious war against members of minority faiths who until recently largely lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors. While Christians and other religious minorities suffered pervasive discrimination and persecution by such U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, these groups were largely unmolested by the secular dictatorships of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, a Christian woman was better off living in Baghdad or Damascus than in Riyadh or Islamabad.
Alas, George W. Bush’s botched campaign against non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction unleashed a tsunami of Islamist brutality. Newly empowered Shia turned the state against formerly ruling Sunnis, who responded with a virulent insurgency and indiscriminate terrorism. Christians, who possessed neither militia nor safe haven, suffered grievously, with hundreds of thousands driven from their homes, many fleeing to Syria.
The collapse, the latter into civil war left Christians (and other religious minorities) poised uneasily between the government and insurgents, with many leaning toward the former. After all, they lived the show in Iraq and didn’t enjoy the ending. Worse was to come from the Islamic State, an outgrowth of in Iraq which allied with disgruntled Sunnis to defeat Baghdad’s forces in Iraq and displace both government forces and more moderate insurgents in Syria.
As ISIS created its “Caliphate”–establishing its rule over a sizeable amount of territory–the group expanded its depredations against most everyone, including antagonistic Sunnis, but especially Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. Hence the brutal campaign detailed in the nearly 300-page report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” issued by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, a group which focuses on the Mideast.
This sustained Islamist attack targets the roots of Christianity. Believers were first called Christians in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:26). Iraqi Christians, known as Assyrians, were converted to Christianity 2000 years ago, apparently by St. Thomas. Christianity predated Islam by hundreds of years and was subjugated through military conquest, not converted through spiritual persuasion. Nevertheless, the Christian community remained vibrant and contributed greatly to Muslim-dominated societies in succeeding centuries. Even in recent years Christians enjoyed surprising influence and authority. A Christian founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Hussein’s Iraq a nominal Christian, Tariq Aziz, held multiple high public positions.
Today, however, the very survival of Christianity in its birthplace is in question.
The report argued simply: “ISIS is committing genocide” against Christians in Iraq, Libya and Syria. “Killings, rapes, torture, kidnappings, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments are, in some instances, a matter of public record.” But the document adds much more detail, reporting crimes largely hidden from public view in the West. Nor is this all. Explained the authors: “We are now being sent new stories and new evidence daily. So what is known about ISIS’ genocidal atrocities will only increase, and the known scale of the horrors that have occurred can only expand with time.”
The words of ISIS are clear. The organization publishes a magazine named Dabiq, the place where the movement expects to destroy the “Crusader army,” meaning Christians. This is no metaphorical quest. Explained the Islamic State:
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted.” If today’s ISIS killers fail in this regard, “then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
Nor is this viewed as a battle against secular armies. To the contrary, stated the Islamic State:
“It will continue to wage war against the apostates until they repent from apostasy. It will continue wage war against the pagans until they accept Islam. It will continue to wage war against the Jewish state until the Jews hide behind their gharqad trees. And it will continue to wage war against the Christians until the truce decreed sometime before the Malhamah. Thereafter, the slave markets will commence in Rome by Allah’s power and might.”
Some policymakers mistakenly believed the assault on Christians was limited–for instance, mostly occurring in Nineveh in 2014. However, noted the study, “Christians have been attacked throughout the region, not simply in the Nineveh area or only during the summer of 2014. Christians have been attacked and killed by ISIS and its affiliates in Syria, Libya, Yemen and surrounding areas.” Indeed, the violence began in Iraq shortly after the U.S. invasion by ISIS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The Islamic State claimed to represent historic Islam and convinced some observers that it had replicated the practice of levying the jizya tax on Christians, otherwise leaving them at peace. In fact, explained the study, ISIS simply employed theological concepts which may “mean something contrary to historic Islamic practice” or “nothing at all.” In this case, jizya proved to be a ploy, “almost always a term for extortion and a prelude or postscript to ISIS violence against Christians.”
In Nineveh, for instance, demands for the tax preceded “killings, kidnappings, rapes and the dispossession of the Christian population.” In Raqqa the practice was employed only “after ISIS had already closed the churches, burned Bibles and kidnapped the town’s priests.” Scholar Alberto Fernandez called the concept “more a Salafi Caliphate publicity stunt than a careful recreation of jizya as practiced by the early Caliphs.” It seems even ISIS, which positively gloried in its murderous ways, hoped to mislead its opponents as to the nature of its campaign.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the Islamic State will change its behavior as long as any Christians or other religious minorities survive under its control. Argued the report: “Thousands of Christians, Yazidis, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabean-Mandeans, Kaka’en Kurds, and Jews have been–and will continue to be–targeted for extermination because of their religion by a well-financed and highly-organized network of criminal gangs.”
Yet to describe the Islamic State’s crimes in generalities does not adequately communicate the truly horrific nature of its campaign. The NGO Shlomo recorded 1131 Christians murders between 2003 and 2014 in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, with more than 100 more since then. Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch, Syria believed more than 500 Christians in Iraq and more than 1000 in Syria were murdered. The Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, said that hundreds of Christians have been killed or kidnapped in his city and perhaps thousands in Syria as a whole. Others have been slaughtered in Libya and elsewhere.
While widespread murder is the Islamic State’s most odious crime, the group inflicts grievous harm on those it does not kill. Those interviewed for the report cited all manner of bodily harm: “Choking, beatings with guns and electrical cords, mock executions, and withholding of food and water in the extreme heat are commonplace.” Rape also is widespread, with more than “1500 Yazidi and Christian girls” taken as sex slaves. As in ancient times, they are sold and shared like chattel. At least 380 Christians are known to have been kidnapped in Syria and more than 150 have been seized in the Nineveh Plain since 2014. Such activities create “mental traumas” akin to PTSD, “Including intrusive thoughts of their captors, overwhelming emotions of fear and grief, and nightmares.” In some cases, such as women repeatedly raped by ISIS fighters, there is “acute mental distress, even total mental breakdown.”
Moreover, the Islamic State coerced religious conversion. Dozens of Christians have affirmed Islam “after being deprived of food and water, and being beaten and threatened with death.” This process might seem unimportant to nonbelievers but, reported the authors, “the violation of conscience–the spiritual rape–involved in a conversion through force works a state of mental and spiritual unrest that is difficult to put into words.” A coerced conversion against one’s beliefs “introduces fear, uncertainty, guilt, and shame into the most important and intimate relationship one can experience.”
There also is robbery of most everything Christians possessed–“homes, businesses, money, jewelry, clothes, and supplies.” ISIS members often returned repeatedly to steal more. Islamic State fighters seized the luggage of Christians forced into exile. Those left in their homes were denied electricity, sanitation and water.
Finally, there is religious cleansing. For instance, “Christians were rounded up into buses and driven out to a remote place to fend for themselves. Sometimes this was next to a river they had to cross, sometimes it was in the middle of the desert.” Left without food and water, many had to walk for hours to reach safety. All told, noted the report: “ISIS generally operated with extreme indifference or hostility to the survival and well-being of its Christian victims.”
The report included detailed lists of crimes committed against Christians and Christians known to be murdered, as well as summaries of witness statements. These highlighted the tragedy that has overwhelmed the region’s religious minorities. Those who escaped reported brutality, beatings, kidnappings, disappearances, expulsions, ransom demands, detentions, looting, churches vandalized and destroyed, homes seized, forced conversions, coerced marriages, and killing. Perhaps the saddest cases, tragically common, involved family members who chose to remain after ISIS’s arrival, believing that the situation would quickly return to normal. Many since have not been heard from and their fate is unknown.
Among the creepiest evidence of the depravity of the Islamic State is the “Subject/Prices of Selling Spoils of War” flier reproduced in the report. Almost beyond belief, this price list for sexual slaves has been confirmed as genuine by Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict. The document complained about a drop in “demand in women and spoils of war” which cut ISIS revenues. Thus, the “caliphate” set price controls, with the penalty of death for any violations. Prices started at 50,000 dinars for a Christian or Yazidi woman between 40 and 50 and rose to 200,000 for any Christian or Yazidi child from one to nine. Only foreigners, as in “Turks, Syrians, and Gulf Arabs,” were allowed to purchase more than “3 spoils.” Bangura explained that such “spoils” often were first offered to Islamic State leaders, next to wealthy Gulf Arabs, and then to local fighters.
Included within the report is a memorandum from ADF International detailing the extraordinary damage done Middle Eastern Christians. While Christianity is the most victimized faith worldwide, noted the group, “the persecution of Christian and other religious or ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq differs significantly from the rest of the world due to the magnitude of the persecution and the intent behind it.” The number of Christians in Iraq is estimated to have dropped from 1.4 million in 2003 to 275,000 today. In Syria the number has gone from 1.25 million in 2011 to about a half million today.
As the Knights/IDC report substantiates, there is no doubt of widespread genocidal persecution of religious minorities. The biggest challenge is what to do about it. Many who pushed for the designation of “genocide” hoped to force a response from Washington. But there is little military option. After all, foolish U.S. intervention triggered the crisis in Iraq and Libya and exacerbated the conflict in Syria. Indictments under the International Criminal Court would provide moral satisfaction, but the Islamic State must be defeated for any prosecutions to occur. Indeed, defeat itself is the most important way to stop ISIS activities and is primarily the responsibility of the Middle Eastern nations under attack from Daesh.
Perhaps the most obvious response by Americans would be to offer more humanitarian aid and accept additional refugees. Despite security fears, the Islamic State is unlikely to attempt to use refugees, who typically wait years for resettlement, as a means to attack America. However, at least Muslim refugees could be taken in by the Persian Gulf States. Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities lack any comparable Mideast sanctuary: only Lebanon is hospitable to non-Muslims, and is overwhelmed with refugees of all faiths.
The slaughter of Middle Eastern Christians and other persecuted faiths is one of the great tragedies of our age. The Knights/IDC report helps bring the Islamic State’s many crimes to life. There is no panacea, no easy solution to the ongoing conflict. But Americans can act even when their government cannot. Today they should act even if their government does not.
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Suspected al Qaeda terrorists shot dead a five-year-old boy who fell to his knees and prayed for his life during a terror attack on a tourist resort in Ivory Coast, eyewitnesses have said.
At least four men armed with AK47s and hand grenades killed 16 people, including four Europeans, in the historic town of Grand Bassam before they were gunned down in a shootout with government troops.
One survivor who saw the attack unfold said: ‘They killed a child despite him kneeling down and begging. They shot a woman in the chest. They’ve killed innocent people.’
Another witness, Marcel Guy, said a man with a long beard spoke to two children in Arabic and spared the life of the one who was able to recite an Islamic prayer.
‘The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes,’ Guy said. Read more via Daily Mail
UPDATE: Al-Qaeda in Africa has claimed the kidnapping of the Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly, who was abducted in Mali in January.
In an eight-minute video, in which Stockly appears dressed in a black hijab, a masked speaker with a British accent claims responsibility on behalf of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“Beatrice Stockly is a Swiss nun who declared war against Islam in her attempt to Christianise Muslims,” the speaker said.
The conditions of her release include setting free AQIM fighters jailed in Mali, and one of their leaders detained at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Switzerland has demanded her unconditional release.
AQIM, which is based in the Sahara Desert between Mali, Niger and Algeria, was involved in the January attack in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, which left 29 dead, including a US missionary and six Canadians visiting the country on behalf of a church. Last week AQIM released Jocelyn Elliott, an Australian Christian woman kidnapped with her husband in northern Burkina Faso on the same day as the attack in the capital. The Islamist group said in an audio recording that it released Mrs Elliott so as “not to make women involved in the war”.
Stockly was taken from her home in Timbuktu by armed gunmen on 7 January. It was the second time she had been kidnapped by Islamists. The most important condition of her release, the speaker in the video said, was that she did not return to any Muslim land preaching Christianity. The Swiss government had warned her not to return to Mali after her release in 2012.
Below is World Watch Monitor’s 11 January report on the kidnap of Beatrice Stockly.
A Swiss missionary abducted for 10 days in 2012 has been kidnapped again in Mali’s northern city of Timbuktu, sources tell World Watch Monitor.
Beatrice Stockly was taken from her residence before dawn on 8 Jan. by armed men, who arrived in four pickup trucks, according to the sources, whose names are being kept confidential for their safety.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Militant Islamist groups are active in the region, where two attacks within the past seven weeks, one of them at a Christian radio station just before Christmas, have left 25 people dead.
A local church leader, who claimed to have previously worked with Stockly, told World Watch Monitor the missionary settled in Timbuktu in 2000, working for a Swiss church, before starting work alone, unaffiliated with any church.
He said Stockly is in her forties and leads an austere life, selling flowers and handing out Christian material. She was described as sociable, particularly among women and children.
Her home is in Abaradjou, a popular district of Timbuktu frequented by armed jihadist groups. She was taken from that same residence in April 2012, when northern Mali was occupied by armed Islamist groups. She was released 10 days later, following mediation led by neighbouring Burkina Faso.
During the 2012 occupation, Christians, a minority in Mali, have paid a heavy price. For most of the year, armed Islamist groups ruled the region, banning the practice of other religions and desecrating and looting churches and other places of worship.
Thousands, including many Christians, fled and found refuge in the south, or in neighbouring countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso. Others fled to Bamako, the capital, and other safer towns in the south.
Unlike other Christians, Stockly remained in the city. At her mother and brother’s urging, she returned to Switzerland after her 2012 kidnap, but soon returned, saying, ‘‘It’s Timbuktu or nothing’’.
The Mali government and the predominantly Tuareg rebel groups signed a peace agreement in June 2015, with limited impact. Jihadist groups have regained ground and intensified attacks, targeting Mali security forces and UN peacekeepers. Their scope has spread to southern regions previously spared by their incursions.
On 17 Dec., three men were killed when an unidentified gunman opened fire outside Radio Tahanint (Radio Mercy in the local dialect), which is closely linked with a Baptist Church in Timbuktu. Hamar Oumar Dicko and Samuel Dicko worked for the station; Abdal Malick Ag Alher was a visiting friend.
Dr. Mohamed-Ibrahim Yattara, President of the Baptist Church in Mali, told World Watch Monitor at the time that Christians were “shocked to see what happened”.
“We are trying to find out what happened, but for now we don’t have any explanation,” he said.
“It’s a Christian radio station that was broadcasting messages of peace lately. One of the young men who was shot last night, he had just finished broadcasting and his last words were about peace.”
“Insecurity is everywhere in Mali,” Yattara said. “The situation is very frail, but we didn’t see a particular threat to the community.”
About one month earlier, terrorists killed 22 people at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. The government imposed a state of emergency that expired on 22 Dec., then extended it to 31 March.
It is thought that the abduction of Stockly is the first of a foreigner since the kidnapping and killing of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, in the northeastern town of Kidal in November 2013.
New video shows a large gathering of Al Qaeda members meeting out in the open in Yemen.
“We must eliminate the cross … The bearer of the cross is America.”
13 Greek Orthodox nuns held for three months by rebels in Syria after being taken from their convent in Maaloula have arrived back in Damascus.
The nuns were handed over to Lebanese officials and then driven to Syria. They said they were tired, but that they had been mostly well treated.
They were freed as part of a prisoner exchange involving some 150 women and children held by the Syrian government. The deal was negotiated by officials from Qatar and Lebanon. The nuns were apparently well after their ordeal. They were brought to Arsal, a town the north-eastern Bekaa Valley, early on Monday. They were then handed over to the Syrian authorities.
It is believed they were held by the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group affiliated to al-Qaeda. Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, head of the Mar Takla monastery in Maaloula, said the nuns had been treated well.
“God did not leave us,” she told reporters. “The [al-Nusra] Front was good to us… but we took off our crosses because we were in the wrong place to wear them.”
George Haswani, a pro-government Christian businessman from Yabroud, told the Lebanese television channel al-Jadeed that the nuns had stayed at his villa and that President Bashar al-Assad had on several occasions personally checked on their health.
The rebels had said that they were protecting the women from government shelling, while Syrian officials had said they were abducted to intimidate the country’s minority Christian community.
Many fear that if the secular government is overthrown, they will be targeted by jihadist rebels calling for an Islamic state and that Christian communities will be destroyed, as they have been in Iraq. Full Article
Prominent indicators confirm that the U.S. is the chief facilitator of the persecution of Christians around the world today.
According to the recently released 2014 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted, Syria is the third worst nation in the world in which to be Christian, Iraq is fourth, Afghanistan fifth, and Libya 13th. All four countries receive the strongest designation, “extreme persecution” (other designations are “severe,” “moderate,” and “sparse” persecution).
Aside from being so closely and harshly ranked, these four nations have something else in common: heavy U.S. involvement. Three—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya—were “liberated” thanks to U.S. forces, while in the fourth, Syria, the U.S. is actively sponsoring “freedom fighters” against the regime, many of whom would be better labeled “terrorists.”
The Syrian situation alone indicts U.S. foreign policy. According to Reuters:
Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, said on Wednesday it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said. “This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm,” said Frans Veerman, head of research for Open Doors. Estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000.
While most Americans are shielded from the true nature of the war by the U.S. media’s reluctance to report on it, Arabic media, websites, and activists daily report and document atrocity after atrocity—beheadings and bombed churches, Christians slaughtered for refusing to convert to Islam, and countless abducted for ransom or rape—at the hands of those whom the U.S. supports.
It’s enough to point out that “the largest massacre of Christians in Syria,” to quote a top religious leader, was left wholly unreported by any major U.S. news network.
At any rate, the statistics speak for themselves: Syria, which used to be religiously tolerant, is now, in the context of the United States’ trying to bring “democracy” to it, the third worst country in the world in terms of “extreme persecution” of Christians.
The Blaze reports that Dr. David Curry, president of Open Doors,
charged that the Obama administration has essentially declined to make the protection of religious minorities a priority . . . “There are many instances where the vacuum of leadership and spokesmanship has created a real problem,” said the human rights leader. “I would say that every significant data point on this year’s ‘2014 Watch List’ is worse—and I think a factor in it is a lack of leadership from Western governments including . . . the U.S. in terms of religious freedom.”
But it’s worse than that. Far from taking any action or providing leadership—or simply ceasing to support the terrorists responsible—the Obama administration recently tried to go to war with Syria on behalf of the “freedom fighters,” amazingly, in the name of “human rights” (Apparently the unsubstantiated rumor that Assad massacred people is enough for the U.S. to go to war, but the ongoing and well-documented massacres of Christians and other civilians at the hands of the opposition is not enough for the U.S. to stop supporting them.)
What’s worse, even the most misinformed mainstream-media-watching American today knows that the so-called “Arab Spring,” which was hailed to justify U.S. support for “rebels” of all stripes—in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (which months ago destroyed some 80 churches); in Libya, al-Qaeda, which has turned Benghazi into a terror zone; and now the “freedom fighters” in Syria—is not what it was touted to be.
In other words, at this point, whenever the U.S. intervenes in an Islamic nation, Islamists come to power. This is well demonstrated by the other three nations to which the U.S. brought “democracy” and where Christian minorities suffer “extreme persecution”:
- Afghanistan: The supposedly “moderate” Karzai government installed by the U.S. upholds many of the draconian laws enforced by the Taliban—including the apostasy law, fiercely persecuting those who seek to convert to Christianity—and, in 2011, under U.S. auspices, it destroyed Afghanistan’s last Christian church.
- Iraq: After the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein, Christian minorities were savagely attacked and slaughtered, and dozens of their churches were bombed (see here for graphic images). Christians have been terrorized into near-extinction, with well over half of them fleeing Iraq.
- Libya: Ever since U.S.-backed, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists overthrew Qaddafi, Christians—including Americans—have indeed suffered extreme persecution. Churches have been bombed; Christians have been tortured and killed (including for refusing to convert); and nuns have been threatened.
Surely a common theme emerges here: Where the U.S. works to oust secular autocrats, the quality of life for Christians and other minorities takes a major nosedive. Under Saddam, Qaddafi, and Assad, Christians and their churches were largely protected.
Moreover, while George W. Bush was responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq, the argument can be made that, back then (2001 and 2003), this pattern of Islamic radicalization that erupts once autocrats are gone was less well known than it is today. There weren’t many precedents.
Conversely, the Obama administration has had both Afghanistan and Iraq to learn from—and yet still it supports Islamists and jihadis. But by now, what happens once they assume power—religious persecution, terror, oppression—is no longer a secret.
Incidentally, those who care little for the fate of Christians or other minorities in the Islamic world would do well to remember a simple truism: Wherever anti-Christian elements come to power, anti-American forces come to power. The two are synonymous.
Put differently, Muslim persecution of Christians is the litmus test of how radical an Islamic society has become. In all those Muslim nations that the U.S. has interfered in—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt (till the Egyptians revolted, to the chastisement of the U.S.), and now Syria—the increase of religious intolerance is a reflection of the empowerment of forces hostile to Western civilization.
I am often asked, “How can we help persecuted Christians?” At this point, one must respond: “How about starting with getting the U.S. government to stop being the chief facilitator of Christian persecution?” Altruism aside, it would be in the interests of all who value freedom, religious or otherwise—and especially their descendants.
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria’s state media say government forces have retaken a Christian town north of Damascus after a week of clashes with al Qaeda-linked fighters who had recently captured key parts of it.
The state-run SANA news agency says the army “restored security and stability” to the town of Sadad early on Monday.
The town had been in opposition hands since last week, when al Qaeda-linked groups captured a checkpoint that gave them control of the western part of the town.
The fighting came as the U.N.-Arab League envoy headed to Syria for his first trip to the country in almost a year. Lakhdar Brahimi had arrived in Beirut earlier on Monday and left for Damascus.
Brahimi is trying to prepare a peace conference on Syria supposed to take place in Geneva next month. Source
Russian Minister Slams Threats to Syria Peace Talk Attendees
(RIA Novosti) – Threats of violence by Syrian opposition groups against participants of an upcoming peace conference on Syria are “outrageous and unacceptable,” Russia’s top diplomat said Monday.
“And the fault, in the grand scheme of things, lies with those who fund and arm these opposition groups,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
Lavrov said the situation demanded “the prompt intervention of those with influence over the opposition.”
Nineteen armed Islamist groups in Syria said in a joint statement Saturday that participating in the Geneva 2 talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war would be “treason” and attendees “would have to answer for it before our courts.”
The UN-backed conference, tentatively set for November 23, has been lobbied for by Russia and the United States, which took responsibility for bringing, respectively, the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiation table.
However, many opposition groups have already said they will not attend the Geneva talks, and Syrian President Bashar Assad has also implied that the government’s participation is not guaranteed.
Lavrov did not name any rebels’ sponsors in his diatribe. Syrian Islamists are believed to enjoy broad support from Sunni Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Lavrov also criticized previous threats against countries seeking a political solution to the crisis, including Russia.
Three Russian diplomats sustained minor injuries during last month’s shelling of an area around the Russian embassy in Damascus.
An increase in violence against Christians in northern Iraq has increased the flow of Christians leaving the country.
The north, generally considered a relatively safe area of the country, had become home for many Christians fleeing from the tumultuous central and southern regions.
However, several bombings in the north in recent months have caused panic among the Christian community.
On September 22, a suicide bomb went off outside the home of Christian politician Emad Youhanna in Rafigayn, part of the Kirkuk province, injuring 19 people, including three of Youhanna’s children.
Several bomb attacks have also taken place in the northern city of Erbil, for which Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
In early September, Christians in the village of Deshtakh complained that they were facing harassment from local police.
A group of Christian young people said that policemen told them that they “should not be in Iraq because it is Muslim territory”.
Violence in the south of the country is also escalating. Church leaders in Baghdad say that there are attacks on Christians every two or three days.
A spokesperson for Open Doors, a Christian charity which supports Christians under pressure for their faith, said that although many Christians are still choosing to stay, the fear is that if the violence continues, they may decide they have little choice but to leave.
“It remains urgent to pray for the future of Christianity in this country,” he said. “If the present trend continues, there might be no Christian left in the whole of Iraq by 2020.”
Some commentators look back to December 2011 as a turning point for Christians in Iraq, following a number of attacks on Christian-owned shops.
Since that time, the violence against Christians in the Kurdish north has increased, with Christians being kidnapped and killed in an area once considered relatively safe.
In March 2012, an American teacher was killed in Sulaymaniyah, which provided another shock for the Christian community.
Meanwhile, the local Kurdish government has discussed ways to monitor Christian activities and accused many English teachers from the West of being Christian missionaries. It is now much harder for Westerners to receive work permits in the country.
Christians in Iraq are a clearly identifiable group. Many wear crosses or have Christian symbols on the gates of their homes.
Iraq is No. 4 on the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which Christians are most under pressure for their faith.
“Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Large numbers of persecuted Christians have fled abroad or to the (until recently) safer Kurdish region, where they face unemployment and inadequate schooling, medical care and housing. The church faces many challenges – members being killed or abducted, and a lack of capable leaders,”
reports the World Watch List.