10 March 2015
An Assyrian woman prays at a church in Damascus on 1 March during a special liturgy for Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State fighters. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Christian leaders again called for help for Assyrian Christians as Islamic State militants stepped up their attacks against their towns in northern Syria. Catholic News Service reports:
Syria’s northeast Hassake province is emerging as the new battlefield in the fight against the extremist group. Analysts say Hassake province, which extends like a thumb into neighboring Iraq and Turkey, could become the fault line of a new multi-front and lengthy war between Islamic State militants and Christians allied with Kurdish fighters.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, warning of the major new offensive
on Christian villages along the Khabur River. “The villages on the south side of the river are in the hands of Islamic State militants,” Ishak told CNS. “They took Tal Nasri, which is very close to Tal Tamar,” Ishak explained. Tal Tamar “is at the crossroads of many highways to Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city; to Qamishli, to Hassake and Ras al Ain.”
The March attacks follow a raid by Islamic State militants on a cluster of villages along the Khabur River on 23 February. More than 220 Assyrian Christians residents and other minorities were abducted then. About 20 Assyrian Christians were later released. Meanwhile, the apostolic nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, told the Rome-based missionary news agency AsiaNews that Islamic State militants released 52 abducted Assyrian Christian families without ransom payment on 5 and 6 March.
“The 52 families who were held for days by the jihadists” are now safe, the archbishop told AsiaNews 9 March. “The militia still holds 16 people. Half of them are Christians; the other half is made up of Kurds.”
No Assyrian or other organizations reported similar information to confirm the news.
A statement issued by the Syriac National Council of Syria, the European Syriac Union, and the Christian Coalition for Syria said Islamic State militants seized “all villages on the south bank of the Khabur and several villages on the north bank.”
Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the statement, which warned that the extremist group will “try to cross the Khabur with large numbers of fighters and heavy weapons — vastly stronger than the lightly armed self-defense forces of both Christians and Kurds in the area.
Read the rest of the report.
Please continue to keep the people of Syria in your prayers. To learn how you can support them in this time of urgent need, please visit this giving page.
10 March 2015
Tags: Syria Violence against Christians War
Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country are seen at an urban renewal area where the buildings were demolished in the Sulaimaniyah neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey, on 26 February. (photo: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
This week marks four year since start of uprising in Syria (Al Jazeera) This week marks four years since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. Though it began as an uprising connected to the larger Arab Spring movement, it spiraled into a war that has left more than 200,000 people dead and more than nine million others displaced…
Lenten call to Catholics to support church in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Parishes across the world year after year take up the traditional annual Good Friday collection for the church in the Holy Land. This year is no different and the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, has written a letter to all pastors of the universal church in which he expresses the gratitude of Pope Francis, of his dicastery and of all the churches “in the land of Christ” for their attention and generous response to the collection…
Middle East peace needed to defeat extremists: Jordan king (Daily Star Lebanon) King Abdullah II of Jordan warned Tuesday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was essential for combating Islamic extremists, saying the conflict served as a rallying cry for jihadis. Abdullah told the European Parliament that the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was “first and foremost” a fight for Muslim nations to carry out…
Gaza’s female mediators stand up for women’s rights (Al Monitor) Women in Palestinian society are ashamed to discuss their problems with the male elders in charge of mediation committees. However, today, things have become easier for women, as the first female mediators have pushed forward social reform and now defend women’s rights in tribal councils headed by men. Gazans go to these councils to settle their family problems and avoid going to court, where the resolution process is much longer and complicated…
The isolation of Donetsk: A visit to Europe’s absurd new border (Der Spiegel) The heavy fighting may have stopped for the time being, but Donetsk is more isolated than ever. Those wishing to enter and leave the city need a difficult-to-obtain special ID. Meanwhile, food and other supplies are only trickling into the metropolis…
5 March 2015
Tags: Syria Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Jordan Middle East Peace Process
A baby cries as members of a Palestinian family warm themselves by a fire on 20 February at the remains of their house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer near Gaza City. (photo: CNS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters)
The situation in Gaza remains critical six months after the war that devastated the region.
CNS spoke with CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, after his most recent visit to Gaza. He noted that unemployment has hit 70 percent, and much of the region remains in ruins:
“One of the most difficult parts of our trip was seeing how much people have lost hope,” he told Catholic News Service on 2 March. “They really could not see any bright spot at the end of the tunnel; the tunnel does not even exist for them.”
Mr. El-Yousef said Gazans told him they feel the situation today is even worse than it was during the war, because then, at least, they had a bit of hope the war would end and things would get better with aid and reconstruction.
But promised financial aid from some Arab countries has failed to materialize largely due to an internal conflict between the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party and Hamas, which controls Gaza. Tunnels along the Egyptian border, which were used to smuggle cheap goods and fuel to Gazans, have been destroyed by the Egyptian government, which has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.
Now all goods reaching Gaza come from Israel, with high Israeli prices, making many basics unaffordable for the local population. People are even resorting to buying basic food necessities on credit, but with no prospects of being able to pay off their debt any time soon, said Mr. El-Yousef.
“The troubles are so widespread, the general atmosphere is one of anger,” he said. “Anger at everyone: at the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for a lack of reconciliation, at Israel for creating the widespread destruction, at the international community for not doing more to support [Gaza] and at other Arab countries for not following through with their financial commitments.”
The level of tension is very high, he said, with the outlook for the future bleak.
Read more at the CNS link. And to find out how you can help the people of Gaza, visit our giving page — and please keep all those who are suffering in your prayers.
5 March 2015
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Sister Micheline addresses the students gathered at her center in Lebanon before serving them a hot meal. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
Name: Sister Micheline Lattouff
Order: Good Shepherd Sisters
Facility: Dier el Ahmar Social Center
Location: Dier el Ahmar, Lebanon
What’s the biggest challenge a sister can face? An overwhelming humanitarian crisis—one that threatens to turn your entire community upside down.
That’s what happened to Sister Micheline Lattouff. With her fellow Good Shepherd Sisters, she had spent years running a center for the local poor in Dier el Ahmar, Lebanon. There, they provide schooling for the village’s children.
The surrounding farms have always drawn fieldworkers from neighboring Syria. But when civil war engulfed their homeland, that long tradition changed. Suddenly, the workers’ camp was, as Sister Micheline says, “full of children, women and elderly who had escaped from Syria and found refuge in the village.”
Everyone was huddled in “wet tents with rain leaking inside, the floor filled with mud without any heating. The children were around a wood fire in the snow with bare feet.”
The sisters raced to acquire tent material, warm clothes, shoes, food and heaters. Local Christians opened their homes, providing mattresses, blankets and supplies.
Soon, 1,400 families had poured in, overwhelming the village. But then Catholic Near East Welfare Association came through. As Sister Micheline explains, CNEWA’s donors “provided the refugees with food packages, winter kits and water supplies.”
She was troubled by seeing refugee children “trying to kill each other in war games, imitating the fighters in Syria.” So with more CNEWA funding, the sisters expanded their school program, providing focus for hundreds of traumatized girls and boys.
What will happen next? After dealing with the crisis head on, Sister Micheline is ready for whatever lies ahead.
“I feel very proud of the volunteering work provided by the whole community,” she says. “Now, when we visit the camp, we find that all families — Christian and non-Christian — became like one family, where members take care of each other.”
As war and natural disasters put more people at risk, the need for all of us to “take care of each other” is more important than ever. It’s why CNEWA is proud to support sisters like Sister Micheline. And it is why she hopes you can do the same.
Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.
To support the good work of sisters throughout CNEWA’s world, click here. (And you can read the introduction to our series, for more information, too.)
For more about Sister Micheline and her work, check out Syria, Shepherds and Sheep from the Spring 2014 edition of ONE.
5 March 2015
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Sisters
In the video above, Syrian and Iraqi church leaders discuss how the Islamic State has impacted their region. (video: Rome Reports)
Islamic State claims upper hand in fight for Iraq’s cities (CBS News) The front line in Iraq’s Kirkuk province was as close as CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her team could get Thursday to the battle for Tikrit. The black flags of the Islamic State flew just 30 yards from Williams’ position with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and beyond that, in Islamic State territory, was Iraq’s main north-south highway…
Dozens reported killed in mine blast in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Local officials say at least 24 people have been killed and 9 remain missing after a massive blast at a coal mine in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The announcement came while Kiev accused authorities in rebel-controlled Donetsk of not doing enough to save lives…
War threatens to fracture Russian Orthodox faithful (U.S. News & World Report) One year on, war is threatening to further fracture Orthodoxy in Ukraine. While Orthodoxy has played a role in Ukraine-Russia relations long before the 2013 to 2014 Euromaidan protests and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine, a decades-long divide has found renewed prominence in the past year. From churches being used to store weapons for the rebels to calls from pro-Ukrainian church leadership to send weapons to Kiev, it’s hard to deny that the war has come to the pews…
Israel moves to alleviate water shortage in Gaza (The Jerusalem Post) Israel plans to double the amount of water it sells to the Gaza Strip to help relieve the water crisis there and ease the burden on the overtaxed coastal aquifer. It is the latest in a series of gestures Israel has made recently to the Palestinians there and in the West Bank…
Rebels attack Syrian intelligence office (Associated Press) Rebels of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and other radical Islamic factions carried out an assault on Wednesday on a government intelligence building in the northern city of Aleppo, blowing up part of it, two activist groups said…
3 March 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel
A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, on 23 February. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
Syrian families who have fled their homes after the Islamic State raided their villages are receiving aid from CNEWA.
Catholic News Service interviewed Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, who coordinates our regional emergency relief programs:
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, upon learning about the Islamic State attacks, contacted Bishop Aprim Nathniel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassake, with whom the agency had collaborated on previous projects, said Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon.
“What we learned from Bishop [Aprim] is that so far, there are around 900 families that have been displaced from around 18 villages out of 35,” Mr. Constantin told Catholic News Service on 27 February from Beirut. “Another 200 families are expected to come as soon as the fighting cools down a little bit.”
He said most of the 900 displaced families have been temporarily settled in homes in Hassake abandoned by fellow Christians — Assyrians, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox — who had earlier fled out of fear because Islamic State groups were very close.
“There were many individual houses that were vacant, so the bishop took the initiative to open these houses, knowing that nobody would mind,” Mr. Constantin said. Although the homes are furnished, the displaced families were in urgent need of food, heating fuel, gas for cooking and medication.
“It’s very important to reach out to them with something very basic to sustain them at least for a couple of weeks,” he said. As a first step, CNEWA arranged to send 900 food packages, enough for each family for that initial period.
However, delivering aid or money to Syria is complicated.
“It’s a very long process to buy food from the outside and send it to Syria. It’s not feasible, it takes too much time,” Mr. Constantin explained. Furthermore, transporting goods is perilous because there are daily raids by Islamic State along the only road that links Hassake to Qamishli.
Under such circumstances, he says it is more efficient to send money to purchase whatever is available locally, but due to the conflict, there is no banking system working in Hassake to send funds via bank transfer.
He said CNEWA was working with an Iraqi aid agency able to get the funds into Syria.
“Without this contact in Iraq we could not be so efficient,” he said.
As a first step, CNEWA sent around $36,000 to buy 900 food packages for $40 each. The agency determined from its work in Syria that $40 can sustain a family of five with food for about two weeks.
“It’s a top priority for us to help these people at this moment and then we can coordinate with other partners to see how more grants, more funding can be conveyed to them,” he added.
CNS has more details.
Meantime, the need continues to be urgent. Please keep these refugees and all who are seeking to help them in your prayers. And to learn how you can help, visit this link.
3 March 2015
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Relief
Women in India have benefited from numerous initiatives of the village of San Joe Puram, including efforts to improve literacy, sanitation and water access. To learn more, read A Place of Promise — and Providence in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)
3 March 2015
Tags: India Village life Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Women Women in India
In this image from December, an Iraqi soldier prays along a dirt road en route to the front lines to battle the Islamic State. The Iraqi military has launched a massive offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State militants. (photo: Scott Person/Getty Images)
Iraqi forces launch offensive to retake Tikrit (Vatican Radio) Iraqi troops and militia fighters have launched an offensive to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants. The military offensive is the largest since the militants took control of the city last year. The offensive is the first in a series of campaigns to try to reclaim large parts of northern Iraq from the Sunni extremists. Tikrit, the provincial capital of the Saladin province north of Baghdad, fell to the Islamic State last summer, along with Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland…
Former general urges Lebanon to welcome refugees (Fides) Former general Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has launched an appeal to the Lebanese authorities to welcome the entry of new refugees in Lebanon of Christian Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syrians fleeing areas of the Syrian province of Jazira, under attack by the Islamic State…
Patriarch Tawadros to meet with families of slain Coptic Christians (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II will meet today, Tuesday, 3 March, with the families of 21 Coptic Christians killed in Libya by terrorists linked to the Islamic State, according to official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The meeting will be held in the village of Samalot, in the province where most of the victims came from. Yesterday, during a homily, the patriarch said that the martyrs of Libya “have enriched the church with their blood,” and with their martyrdom have confessed and testified faith in Christ before the world…
Famed graffiti artist Bansky leaves his mark in Gaza (Salon) Whenever a new piece by graffiti artist Banksy shows up in the world, people take notice. Now, thanks to Banksy, the world is once again looking squarely at Gaza after what feels like the first time since the Gaza war last summer…
2 March 2015
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Art Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
Pope Francis meets Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, third from left, during a private audience at the Vatican on 2 March. During his Sunday Angelus, the pope offered special prayers for the people of Syria and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
2 March 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis
A displaced Assyrian man, who had fled his hometown due to Islamic State attacks against Assyrian communities, takes part in a prayer at the Ibrahim al Khalil Melkite Greek Catholic church in the Jaramana district on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on 1 March. (photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
Islamic State releases 19 Assyrian Christian hostages (Catholic Herald) Christians in the Middle East have welcomed the release of nearly 20 Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria, but expressed concern that more than 200 others remained in captivity. “I can confirm the release of 19 persons (17 men and 2 women) who were captured by the Islamic State in the Khabur region,” said the Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program, Northern Iraq (CAPNI). “We pray and hope for the others to be released,” he added…
Syrian, Kurdish forces battle Islamic State in key border area (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian regime forces and Kurdish militia fought separate battles with Islamic State forces Monday in a strategic area near the Iraqi and Turkish borders, an activist group said. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, after three days of clashes, regime forces bolstered by fighters from Arab tribes had secured control over 23 villages in the center of the province from the Islamic State. Syrian state news agency SANA put the number at 31…
Despite threats, Iraqi Christians vow to remain in home country (Jerusalem Post) Praying for peace at a Baghdad church and the release of fellow Christians taken by Islamic State, Iraqi Christians said that despite their fear for future, they do not have the intention to leave their ancient home of Mesopotamia, Iraq. “We are staying here. A number of people and relatives have immigrated recently, but others are still holding on. This is our country and these are our churches and we are clinging to them, but there are people who left out of fear for the future,” said Hani, the deacon of Mar Georgis Chaldean Church in Baghdad…
Jordan’s illegal labor puzzle: Let Syrian refugees work or just survive? (Al Jazeera) As Syria slogs into its fifth year of war, 3.8 million external refugees are running out of ways to survive outside their war-torn homeland. UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Maha Homsi said that Syrian refugees in Jordan are being pushed toward “negative coping mechanisms,” a euphemism for drug trafficking, prostitution, child labor and crime. Under Jordanian law, Syrian refugees are in the same category as other foreigners: they can work, but only if a Jordanian employer applies and pays the fee for a work permit on their behalf. In practice, only about 6,000 out of more than 620,000 registered refugees and 1.4 million total Syrians in Jordan hold legal permits, according to the Ministry of Labor. The rest work illegally…
Fighting in Ukraine has killed over 840 since mid-January (New York Times) The United Nations said on Monday that a sharp escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine from mid-January to the middle of last month had left at least 842 people dead and over 3,400 wounded, with hundreds missing and many buried without their deaths being recorded. Ivan Simonovic, the United Nations assistant secretary general, told reporters here that more than 6,000 people had been killed since the fighting started in April…
Jews, Christians and Muslims unite to repair Mount Zion cemeteries (Christian Today) Christians and Muslims living on Mount Zion have been the target of numerous hate crimes in recent years, but representatives from all three religions are taking a stand against the intolerance by repairing the mount’s graveyards. Last week a Greek Orthodox Seminary on the mount was the site of an arson attack in which one of the church’s bathrooms was set on fire. A wall was also sprayed with anti-Jesus graffiti, but no one was injured in the attack. Other incidents have seen gravestones smashed and people spitting at priests, and there has been little police intervention…
Can music help to de-stigmatize disability in Gaza? (BBC) Despite the high prevalence of people with disabilities in Gaza, disabled children are still shrouded in social stigma, and many parents choose to hide their offspring from the prying public eye. But music therapy specialists at the National Center for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza City are using the unconventional, modern technique to treat the children who attend. Their aim is to help integrate them into a society where disabilities are still very much taboo…
Tags: Syria Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians Jordan