RLPB 399. Syria: Jihadists Threaten Damascus
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
A NEW COALITION FORMS: In late January Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS — formerly Al Nusrah Front) and four other jihadist groups announced the creation of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the ‘Assembly for the Liberation of Syria’. The new coalition is headed by Aleppo-born Abu Jaber, a seasoned jihadist and former emir of Ahrar al Sham (aka the Syrian Taliban). Jaber issued a rallying cry on 9 February, claiming great gains and stressing the urgency of defeating the Shi’ites who, he warned, seek to ‘enslave the region’. HTS is known to be training a new type of weapon: suicide bombers known as ‘inghimasi’. As highly skilled, well-trained guerrilla fighters armed with automatic weapons and grenades, the ‘nghimasi will fight their way through to a target. On 25 February an inghimasi penetrated security at the Military Security and National Security branch in Homs and fought his way into the office of General Hassan Daabul, the head of military intelligence for the city of Homs, where he detonated his vest. As medics and security personnel rushed to the scene, improvised bombs planted around the site claimed more casualties. More than 40 were killed and 50 wounded in what was a highly sophisticated assault.
BOMBS IN DAMASCUS: On 11 March at least 40 mostly Iraqi Shia pilgrims were killed and 120 wounded in a twin bombing near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery in Damascus; HTS claimed responsibility. On 15 March at least 30 died when one suicide bomber detonated himself inside a restaurant in the Al-Rabweh area and an inghimasi dressed in full military uniform launched an attack on the Palace of Justice in central Damascus, timed to kill as many lawyers and judges as possible. In a broadcast on 18 March HTS chief Abu Jaber boasted of having a plan that should succeed, adding, ‘We will escalate our attacks in coming days.’ The next day, Sunday 19 March, HTS jihadists launched a surprise military attack on the densely populated area of Al-Abbasiyeen near Jobar, just 2km east of the Old City, having entered the area through tunnels. Long an oasis of relative normality, central Damascus came under heavy rebel shelling. Syrian forces responded with air strikes, shelling and sniper fire which eventually drove the jihadists back. This is the closest the jihadists have come to the city centre and their ‘success’ will doubtless attract more fighters.
In recent years the population of Damascus has swelled from less than two million to well over four million as Syrians, including hundreds of thousands of Christians, have sought sanctuary inside the city’s security cordon. On 1 March the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Archbishop Samir Nassar, released a statement entitled ‘A Very Bitter Lent’. He describes ‘an apocalyptic scene’, and laments the shattering of families, the ruination of children, the decimation of parishes and the struggle for survival. Noting that only the Church can ‘lead the way towards Christ Resurrected’, he exhorts the faithful not to give up, but to heed the words of Christ the ‘Light of the world’, who says, ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). With jihadists now threatening the capital, Lent in Damascus may prove even more bitter than the Archbishop had imagined.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO
* rise up against those who seek to erase liberty and annihilate the Church. ‘Break the arm [mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.’ (Psalm 10:15 ESV)
* protect, preserve and sanctify his precious Church, the light and future hope of Syria.
* draw his beloved faithful children close to him in prayer and worship, so they might know that precious ‘rest’ that comes from Christ alone; may the Church find hope in ‘Christ Resurrected’.
‘But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.’ (Psalm 3:3 ESV)
* redeem all suffering for the saving of many lives; ‘that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord’ (Isaiah 37:20 ESV).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
JIHADISTS IN SYRIA THREATEN DAMASCUS
A new al-Qaeda-led jihadist coalition, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), recently perpetrated several devastating attacks deep inside Damascus. On 19 March HTS launched a massive military assault just 2km from the walls of the Old City, having entered the area through tunnels. Whilst they were eventually driven back, it is the closest the jihadists have come to the city centre. In recent years the population of Damascus has swelled from less than 2 million to well over 4 million as Syrians, including hundreds of thousands of Christians, have sought sanctuary inside the city’s security cordon. The Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Samir Nassar, writes of ‘a very bitter Lent’, while proclaiming ‘Christ Resurrected’ and encouraging the faithful not to give up. Please pray for Syria and its Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).