Friday, 29 June 2012

Syria: Its all about oil

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent today insists: Western agreement 'could leave Syria in Assad's hands for two more years' because, surprise, surprise, "Need for oil routes buys time, claims key Damascus figure"

Here are three paragraphs from Fisk's article that explain why Qatar and Saudi Arabia are cooperating with Western interests in seeking regime change in Syria. This is no Arab Spring.
"But the real object of talks between the world powers revolves around the West’s determination to secure oil and particularly gas from the Gulf states without relying upon supplies from Moscow. “Russia can turn off the spigot to Europe whenever it wants – and this gives it tremendous political power,” the source says. “We are talking about two fundamental oil routes to the West – one from Qatar and Saudi Arabia via Jordan and Syria and the Mediterranean to Europe, another from Iran via Shia southern Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and on to Europe. This is what matters."

"It is one thing to hear political leaders excoriating the Syrian regime for its abuse of human rights and massacres – quite another to realise that Western diplomats are quite prepared to put this to one side for the proverbial ‘bigger picture’ which, as usual in the Middle East, means oil and gas supplies."

"And, much more interesting to Assad’s men, the West continued to support the Algerian regime with weapons and political encouragement throughout the 1990s while huffing and puffing about human rights. Algeria’s oil and gas reserves proved more important than civilian deaths – just as the Damascus regime now hopes to rely upon the West’s desire for via-Syria oil and gas to tolerate further killings" 
Read more here.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

British: It's the New German

Just when I am contemplating buying a German car, the Chinese go and build one in Birmingham.

See more here

Israel is in breach of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention says UK Government funded Report

A new report by UK lawyers, including Sir Stephen Sedley and Baroness Scotland (a former Attorney General), was published in London last night. The UK Foreign Office funded report: Children in military custody – considers the situation facing Palestinian children prosecuted in Israeli military courts.

The report found that Israel is in breach of a series of articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The report concludes by making 40 recommendations including:

  • An end to night time arrests except in extreme circumstances;
  • An end to hooding and blindfolding children;
  • An end to painfully tying children;
  • An end to transferring children on the floor of military vehicles;
  • The presence of a family member during interrogation;
  • Access to a lawyer prior to interrogation;
  • An end to forcing children to sign confessions in Hebrew; and
  • An end to transferring children to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. (See: DCI Urgent Appeal)

The report has been extensively covered in the UK media:

·         The Independent – Nothing resonates like the mistreatment of minors
·         Channel 4 News – Israel ‘breaches rights of Palestinian children’
·         The Jewish Chronicle – Israel ‘in breach of international law’ over child detainees

Jewish support for Church of England Synod motion

Ben White reports that the Palestine and Israel motion tabled for next month’s Church of England General Synod has received strong support from British-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians(JfJfP).
In an official statement, the network of Jews in Britain supportive of Palestinian rights slammed the “misleading and biased attack” launched by the Board of Deputies of British Jews on the motion and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in particular.
The full text is here.

Egypt's Islamist President Will Select Christian Vice President

Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who narrowly won last week's runoff to become Egypt's first democratically elected president, plans to choose a Coptic Christian and a woman as his vice presidents in a gesture of inclusiveness, his spokesman has told multiple news outlets.
"And it's not just a vice president who will represent a certain agenda and sect, but a vice president who is powerful and empowered, and will be taking care of critical advising within the presidential Cabinet," spokesman Ahmed Deif told CNN.

CT has reported from Cairo on what Coptic Christians think of their new Islamist president, as well as new Coptic strategies to thrive in an Islamist Egypt and how Copts are finding common identity across denominational lines.

CT's complete coverage of Egypt, including how Pope Shenouda's death affects Coptic evangelicals, can be found here.

Source: Christianity Today

Monday, 25 June 2012

Extradite me I'm British

British Justice for British Citizens Protest Against Extradition: See more photos of the Downing Street Demonstration here. See more on the campaign here.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

International Refugee Day Seminar

The Palestine Return Centre sponsored a seminar in Parliament to mark International Refugee Day (20th June) on the 18th June 2012. According to the United Nations, the largest refugee community in the world are the Palestinians.

International Refugee Day is an annual event launched by the United Nations to highlight the plight of millions of refugees worldwide who are forced to flee their homes.

It is organized in partnership with the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) and other NGOs, focusing on the legal, political and humanitarian aspects of the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Five MPs, who visit Palestine regularly, sometimes as members of PRC delegation to the region, were amongst the panelists. Joining them was an UNRWA representative and members of the refugee community.

Full Panel:

• Sir Gerald Kaufmann MP
• Andy Slaughter MP
• Jeremy Corbyn MP
• Ian Murray MP
• Andrew Love MP
• Ardi Imseis, Field Legal Officer with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
• Mohammed Al Hamid (Chair of PRC board of Trustees)
• Dr. Tariq Tahboob (Association of Palestinian Doctors in Europe)

See photos taken here.

Burrswood Hospital Benefit Breakfast

Last week, Christ Church hosted a ladies breakfast at which Dr Gareth Tuckwell, CEO of Burrswood Hospital spoke.

Burrswood is unique, in so far as it is the only Christian hospital in the UK. 

The staff and volunteers at Burrswood hospital in Kent are all committed to discovering and realising the will of God, both for ourselves and for those who entrust themselves to our care. It is the same no matter what reason they come to us – whether it is for counselling, Christian healing, palliative and respite care or end of life care.

Here are the photographs taken at the breakfast and also of Burrswood Hospital.

Here is an interview with Dr Gareth Tuckwell, CEO of Burrswood Hospital.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

New Archbishop of Uganda: Right Revd Stanley Ntagali

The Right Revd Stanley Ntagali, Anglican Bishop of Masindi Diocese from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

On 22nd June 2012, at a press conference held at the Archbishop's Palace, Namirembe, the Rt. Rev. Nicodemus Okille, Dean of the Church of the Province of Uganda, announced that the Rt. Rev. Stanley Ntagali was elected the 8th Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. The election was held during a meeting of the House of Bishops on Friday, 22nd June, 2012, at St. Paul's Cathedral, Namirembe.

The election was by secret ballot and was presided over by the Provincial Chancellor. Bishop Ntagali was elected with more than a two-thirds majority, per the Constitution of the Church of Uganda.

Bishop Ntagali was consecrated Bishop on 19th December 2004 and has served as the Bishop of Masindi-Kitara Diocese for eight years.

Born in Ndorwa County in Kabale District in 1955, he shifted with his family to Wambabya Parish in Kizirifumbi Sub-county in Hoima District when he was 16 years old. On Christmas Eve 1974, at the age of 19, he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour and was born again.

He began working as a teacher in Wambabya Primary School, and later spent two years as a missionary in Karamoja Diocese. He did his theological training at Bishop Tucker Theological College, St. Paul's Theological College, Limuru, Kenya, and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in the UK.

After serving as a missionary in Karamoja Diocese, he served the remainder of his priestly ministry in various capacities in Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese until 2002, when he was appointed Provincial Secretary.

As a Bishop, Ntagali has represented the Archbishop in international meetings, served as the Chair of the Church House Board, and led the committee that designed guidelines for retiring Bishops.

Bishop Ntagali is married to Beatrice and they have five children.

On 8th January 2012 Archbishop Henry Orombi announced his intention to retire after nine years of service to continue a ministry of preaching, which has been his passion. He said, "I want to devote the rest of my life, while I am still able, to fulfilling this calling full-time."

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi has served as the 7th Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. Elected in July 2003, he was installed as Archbishop on 25th January 2004 at St. Paul's Cathedral, Namirembe. He has served with distinction for nine years; consecrated 25 new Bishops and launched four new Dioceses. It is under his leadership that construction has begun on Church House, and his successor will dedicate it next year, God willing.

Source: Virtue Online

Do Jews Have a Divine Right to Israel's Land?

John Piper and David Brickner are debating this important subject over on Christianity Today.

Do Jews have a divine right to the Promised Land? Are American pastors dismissive of Arab Christians in Israel? Should Christians treat the Israeli-Palestinian dispute differently than other conflicts? As pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, John Piper has been addressing these contentious questions for years. After he began informally discussing them with David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, we invited them to share some of their discussion with our readers.

See their conversation here John Piper and David Brickner

When Zionists promote Anti-Semitism

It is ironic that those who claim to oppose anti-Semitism the strongest sometimes, however unintentionally, appear to be the ones who actually promote it the loudest.

I have never knowingly and intentionally cited or drawn attention to anti-Semitic material, but some who disagree with me have repeatedly done so.

But then what can you do when you don't want to address the message (the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by peaceful and diplomatic means based on the rule of international law and UN Resolutions)? Simple, deflect attention from the message by discrediting the messenger. See herehere and here for recent examples.

I am obviously not responsible for the content of these websites. So please don't assume that just because I'm making it easy for you to find them, I necessarily endorse everything on them will you (whether Zionism or anti-Semitism)? You are a grown up, you make up your own mind.

As for me, I concur wholeheartedly with John Stott who once said,
“Away then with anti-Semitism! It has been an appalling scandal in the history of Europe, and even the Christian church has been implicated. Christians should be ‘pro-Semitic’, in the sense that we recognize how the people of Israel have been highly favoured by God. We Gentiles are their debtors, Paul wrote (Romans 15:27). We owe them a huge spiritual debt, especially in their bequest to the world of both the Scriptures and the Christ."

If you want to know what I actually believe instead of other people tell you I believe, then see here, here, here and here.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Shadow Wars

Duane Shank has written an important article for Sojourners entitled, 'Shadow Wars'
"A series of recent news stories, largely based on anonymous sources, reveals an emerging new U.S. military strategy. After more than 10 years of long, bloody ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration is turning to what one report called “shadow wars.”

Rather than large numbers of troops on the ground, these wars involve covert intelligence and action, special forces units, cyberwar against computers, and a greatly expanded use of unmanned drones. They are undeclared, still largely secret, and unaccountable.

Beginning under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the U. S. is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.

A lengthy report in The New York Times described a ritual by which people’s names are nominated to be killed. A group gathered from the national security agencies meets every week or so to add new names to “an expanding ‘kill list,’ poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.” The list then goes to the White House, where the president approves the names.

In Pakistan and more recently in Yemen, drone strikes are moving to what are called “signature” attacks, not aimed at specific individuals but at what are considered suspicious behavior “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on vehicles, facilities, communications equipment, and patterns of behavior. And the president has adopted a new method of counting civilian deaths – all military-age males in the area of a strike are considered militants, unless there is posthumous evidence they were civilians."
Read more here

Shank concludes, "It is a time when, as Dr. Martin Luther King said about the war in Vietnam, “Every [person] of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits [their] convictions, but we must all protest.”"

Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries

Sam Yeghnazar, the Founder and Director of Elam Ministries, will be the guest preacher at Christ Church on Sunday morning 24th June.


Elam was founded in 1988 by senior Iranian church leaders with a vision to serve the growing church in the Iran region. From the beginning, Elam's passion was to train and equip Iranian Christians to reach and disciple their country men. In 1990 six emerging leaders arrived in England from Iran to begin their fulltime ministry training. They lived in a small, two-bedroom flat and used the kitchen as a classroom. Since then, Elam has seen many years of God's faithfulness. By God's grace, the ministry is growing and is being used to strengthen and expand the church in the Iran region in a significant way.

Iran: Closed Land, Open Hearts

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians have become increasingly disillusioned with Islam. The political, economic, and spiritual situation in Iran has resulted in a deep spiritual hunger for truth. Iran may be a closed land, but the people have open hearts. Iranians today are seen as the most open Muslim people to the Gospel in the world. More have become Christians since the revolution than the previous 1,300 years put together.

Unprecedented Church Growth

In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation. Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years-such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime. If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.

Vision and Strategy for Impact

Elam's vision is that all the people of the Iran region would have the opportunity to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him as a disciple, and that they would be instrumental in taking the Gospel to other Muslims. To achieve this Vision, our goals are to:

Train leaders and workers to be effective ministers of the Gospel in the Iran region.

Equip the Church with resources that will assist them in their ministry to the people of the Iran region.

Send leaders and workers to strengthen existing churches, establish new churches, and provide relief for the poor and persecuted.

For more information see here

British Justice for British Citizens

Update: See photos here

Victoria Brittain, speaking on behalf of We Are Babar Ahmad, said, “this campaign against the extradition of these four men to the US is more important than just an issue of respecting British sovereignty. It involves a fundamental moral issue: it is completely unacceptable than any man can be held in a UK high security prision fighting extradition for eight and six years – like Babar and Talha – when there is no charge against them in the UK.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) declared in July 2004 and December 2006, as did the UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in September 2006, that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge Babar Ahmad with any criminal offence in the UK. Since then in 2011 the CPS revealed for the first time that evidence had been sent to the US without ever having been reviewed by them. The CPS is being asked to conduct a judicial review and investigate why evidence was sent to the United States without ever having been reviewed. Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP has backed the campaign saying “If there is evidence against them they should be tried in the UK”.

Statement from Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor & Shadow Secretary of State for Justice:

“As the Member of Parliament for Tooting I have been working with the families and legal representatives of my constituents, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, for several years. I have raised a number of different issues about their cases to senior members of the previous government and current government (including several Home Secretaries) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). If there is evidence against them they should be tried in the UK".

Statement of the Home Affairs Select Committee:

“Extradition imposes a significant burden on the accused, who might have to spend many months or years living in a foreign country, often in prison, away from their home, family, friends and job. It would be fundamentally unjust to submit an innocent person to such an ordeal, even if they were subsequently acquitted at trial.... The Committee is proposing significant changes to the extradition arrangements between the US and the UK not because we are critical of the American justice system but because we recognise the importance of robust extradition arrangements between our two countries”. March 2012

Statement of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights:

“We recommend that the Government urgently renegotiate this article of the US-UK extradition treaty to exclude the possibility that extradition is requested and granted in cases such as that of Mr Bermingham and Mr Ahmed, where the UK police and prosecution authorities have already made a decision not to charge or prosecute an individual on the same evidence adduced by the US authorities to request extradition”. June 2011.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Haaretz Report: Iran, Russia, China to hold mass military drill in Syria

Haaretz quotes Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency as claiming there are "plans underway for joint land and sea-based war games, with 90,000 soldiers and hundreds of aircraft taking part, to take place in early July."
Iran, Russia, China and Syria are planning to hold joint military drill in Syria in early July, according to a report published Tuesday morning by Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency.
Citing "informed sources," Fars reported that the four countries will conduct war games on land and at sea, with the participation of some 90,000 soldiers, 1,000 tanks and 400 aircraft.
According to the sources, Egypt has agreed to allow 12 Chinese warships passage through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria.

Iranian battleships and submarines, along with Russian nuclear submarines, warships, aircraft carriers and mine-clearing destroyers will also participate in the exercise.

Fars quoted "unofficial sources" who described the exercise as the largest war games exercise ever conducted in the Middle East. 
Read more in Hebrew here and the Jerusalem Post here and DEBKAFile here.

And with DEBKA also claiming US military intervention in Syria – “Not if but when”, were I a premillennial dispensationalist (which I am not) I might find this all somehow prophetically significant.

Kairos USA Statement

In June 2011 a group of U.S. clergy, theologians and laypersons inaugurated a new movement for American Christians. The impetus for the formation of Kairos USA was the 2009 call of our Palestinian sisters and brothers in Christ to stand with them in their struggle for their fundamental human rights. In taking a bold, prophetic stand for justice in the Holy Land, we are also expressing our love for our sisters and brothers in Israel who for their entire history as a state have been suffering from the social, psychological and spiritual costs of militarization and war itself.

There is an urgent need to support nonviolent resistance to oppression on the part of Palestinian and Israeli civil society and to continue to build the growing international grassroots movement that will break the current political logjam.

We lift up the example of the 1985 South African Kairos document "Challenge to the Church" that called its own government and the church itself to rise up and name the evil of apartheid, signaling the beginning of the end of the system that had so poisoned their society.

We recall the central role of the church in the Civil Rights movement in our country, when the courage of African American pastors spread throughout the churches of our land, changing the political and social landscape of America.

Kairos USA is committed to the following goals: 
  • Provide a home for American Christians in their work for a just peace in Israel/Palestine, bridging the denominational, racial, and evangelical-mainline divides.
  • Call for pilgrimages to the Holy Land that witness the suffering and connect with those working for peace.
  • Disseminate the “Call to Action: a U.S. Christian response to the Palestine Kairos document.” This document will be accompanied by study materials for churches, schools and local groups and serve as a catalyst for conversation, learning, connection, and action
  • Develop a contemporary theology of land, peoplehood and promise that will enable clergy, scholars and laypersons to better pursue open conversation, study, and positive action
  • Connect denominations, congregations, and peace organizations here in the U.S., and link to Kairos movements across the globe
  • Connect with congregations in Palestine and Israel, and with civil society organizations in the region working for peace and human dignity
Read the Kairos USA Statement

Read document as HTML:

Monday, 18 June 2012

Tourists Venture to West Bank to Shoot Terrorists

Akiva Novick over on YNet has written a fascinating piece about  how the Israeli tourist economy is being boosted by entrepreneurial Settlers: "Tourists venture to West Bank to 'shoot terrorists'". He subtitles it,"Thrill-seeking tourists of all ages brave West Bank shooting range to be taught by settlers how to shoot terrorists."
Summer camp, warfare style: Like a frozen turkey plunged into boiling oil, a group of American tourists descend from an air-conditioned van into the scorching heat of the West Bank. Flashing smiles all around, they march into Caliber 3, a local shooting range.

"Move it!" the Israeli guide suddenly yells. "Destroy that terrorist," he orders them, and they charge, guns loaded, at cardboard targets.
Gush Etzion has become a hot destination in recent months for tourists seeking an Israeli experience like no other: The opportunity to pretend-shoot a terror operative. Residents of the nearby settlements, who run the site, offer day-trippers a chance to hear stories from the battleground, watch a simulated assassination of terrorists by guards, and fire weapons at the range.
Five-year-old sniper 
Michel Brown, 40, a Miami banker, chose to take his wife and three children to the range with the purpose of "teaching them values." Upon entering the range, his five-year-old daughter, Tamara, bursts into tears. A half hour later, she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro.
Read more here  

Norman Finkelstein has added his own provocative take on the story West Bank settlers to teach Jewish senior citizens from Miami how to shove Arabs into gas chambers

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Cantona and Kanouté call for Release of Mahmoud Sarsak

A letter signed by Eric Cantona calling for the release of Palestinian footballer, Mahmoud Sarsak has been sent to Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA President Michel Platini.
The letter read as follows:
We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation. Indeed some government officials are boycotting group stage matches in Ukraine because of perceived human rights abuses in that country.
So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013? Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country.
Israeli government ministers respond to mob attacks on black refugees by denouncing them as 'infiltrators' and calling for them to be imprisoned in military camps.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300 of them "administrative detainees" held without charge or trial. One of these is a footballer from Gaza, Mahmoud Sarsak, aged 25. He has been imprisoned for nearly three years. No charge, no trial. In desperation, he has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and is now close to death. He, and all victims of abuse by the Israeli state, need our support.
It is time to end Israel's impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.'
Signed (in personal capacity):
Eric Cantona
Noam Chomsky, Professor MIT, USA
Tariq Ramadan, Professor, Oxford University, Switzerland
John Dugard, Former Special Rapporteur of UN on Palestine, South Africa
Trevor Griffiths, Writer, UK
Paul Laverty, Screenwriter, UK
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Miriam Margolyes OBE, Actor, UK
John Pilger, Journalist, author, film maker, Australia
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, UK
Michael Mansfield QC, UK
The letter was coordinated by the Red Card Israeli Apartheid Campaign. Shamiul Joarder said "it is great to have a football legends Eric Cantona and Frédéric Kanouté join the call from cultural and academic figures in support of Sarsak." Kanouté tweeted his support saying to "Give Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak a fair trial or release him."
Mr. Joarder went on to say ''We also welcome the support from FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Show Racism the Red Card both coming days after the World Professional Football Association FIFPro expressed concern for Sarsak last week by demanding that he be released from prison. We are hoping the pressure continues to grow to release Mahmoud as time is not on his side.'
Source: Friends of Al Aqsa

See also The Independent Calls to strip Israel of hosting the European Under-21 Championships grow over detention of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak

and Guardian Palestinian footballer's hunger strike sparks fears for his life

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Western 'Christian' Backed Opposition Targetting Syrian Christians?

The Independent claimed an 'exclusive' yesterday, Exclusive: Arab states arm rebels as UN talks of Syrian civil war but it was buried rather deep on its website. They told us something we have known for months: "Saudi Arabia and Qatar 'supplying weapons' to anti-Assad forces, while fears mount for civilians" which is something of an understatement.
"Syrian rebels are being armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, The Independent has learnt, in a development that threatens to inflame a regional power struggle provoked by the 15-month-old uprising against the Assad regime."
It must be true because the Syrian Opposition has admitted it to the Independent.
"three weeks ago, members of the loose assortment of rebel groups that comprises the FSA said they had received multiple shipments of arms including Kalashnikov assault rifles, BKC machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank weaponry from Gulf countries and that Turkey was assisting in the delivery of the weapons.
"The Turkish government helped us to be armed," said one member of the FSA living in the Turkey-Syria border area. He claimed that the weapons had arrived at a Turkish port via ship and were then driven to the border without interference from Turkish authorities."
So Turkey is also assisting the Gulf States to arm the Syrian Opposition. And now Russia is accusing the USA of doing the same Moscow returns fire by accusing US of arming Syria's rebel forces
"Analysts and diplomats say that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has become better organised and armed in recent months, as weapons shipments begin to seep in from nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The US State Department has stressed that it is not providing any lethal equipment to rebels, but has reportedly been helping to co-ordinate shipments from the Gulf. Russia is the main arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad's regime, but says its contracts are in line with UN regulations.
"We are not violating any international law in performing these contracts," said Mr Lavrov. "That contrasts with what the United States is doing, which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government."
So, the US State Department is not supplying 'lethal' equipment but...?

And what are the consequences? Surprise, surprise, the expulsion of Christians. According to the Los Angeles Times Vatican: Christians expelled from war-torn Syrian town
The Vatican agency cited “sources” who said that extremist Islamist groups in the ranks of the Qusair rebels “consider Christians 'infidels,' confiscate goods, commit brief executions and are ready to start a 'sectarian war.' "
Not good. But sounds like a re-run of Iraq. See also

Syrian Islamist opposition casts out Christians

One thousand more Syrian Christians flee after ultimatum

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Expulsion of Christians by Syrian Opposition

Last Friday Irish RTE Radio interviewed a Melkite Catholic nun and Mother Superior, Agnes Miriam of the Cross, live from the Monastery of St. James at Qara in the Diocese of Homs, Syria. The programme name is Live Line and the programme presenter is Joe Duffy.

This interview only scratched the surface with regard to her knowledge on the crises in her region, for instance she is the one who challenged the figures and names given by the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and at risk to her own life went directly in to the zones of conflict to ascertain and cross-reference the names and identities of those killed, records of events are being falsified and false attributions for many killings are been given and accepted as fact by most western media outlets.

Listen here

Mother Agnes warns of another possible expulsion of Christians from the neighbouring town and rebel stronghold of al Qusair. The Christians had been given 6 days by the rebels to leave the village. This amounts to the mass expulsion of thousands of residents. Day 6 was today! She is expecting the worst.

Mother Agnes Miriam 

The Vatican has subsequently confirmed the expulsions here.

Kairos Iona: Arab and Jew Challenge the Churches

Bring together a Jew steeped in Zionism and a Palestinian Christian theologian and you can expect fireworks. Especially when the meeting takes place at Pentecost.

But, instead of conflict, the outcome was a powerful challenge to Britain’s churches to end their “deafening silence” on Palestine and to speak out for justice.

When Mark Braverman preached at the Pentecost Sunday Eucharist in Iona Abbey, the Jewish American revealed a personal moment of truth. On a visit to the Holy Land, as he stood before the 24 foot high concrete separation wall in Jerusalem, he realised he had to break down a personal barrier that prevented him facing up to what his own people were doing to the Palestinians.

He said there was a tragic irony that, from the Nazi Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, you look across at the ruins of Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village, where more than 100 men, women and children were massacred by Jewish forces in 1948.

As a Jew, steeped in the Zionist narrative, he said he experienced a profound change of mind. He became and remains, a committed advocate for the Palestinian struggle for human and political rights.

‘It is’, he said, ‘the most Jewish thing I have ever done.’

Now he and the Rev Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel liberation theology centre in Jerusalem, are urging Britain’s churches to speak out for a just peace. Referring to the South African Kairos initiative (1985) they expounded the Kairos Palestine document* which asks “Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?”

More than 70 people from all over Britain took part in the international consultation on the Hebridean island of Iona. The outcome was a joint appeal** in which they said:

  • We ask our churches to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.
  • We urge Christians to participate only in those pilgrimages which give opportunity to listen to the experiences of Palestinians and to engage with the harsh realities of occupation.
  • We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions and other forms of non-violent direct action.
  • We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people.

In pursuit of the above we intend to establish a UK Kairos network, linked to the Kairos Palestine global movement, to alert our churches to the urgent situation in Palestine. We challenge Christians and churches to engage in prayerful study of the Kairos Palestine document in openness to what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Rev. 2.7). We must read the signs of the times and act in obedience to God's will (Matt. 16.3).

Difficult though this journey may be, we seize this Kairos moment with conviction and hope. We recognise our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ to speak the prophetic word with courage.

Kairos Palestine

The Kairos Palestine Document : A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering

Download the English version as pdf
Download the Arabic version as pdf

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Alex Thomson says crew was led to 'free-fire zone' by Syrian Opposition as deaths would discredit Bashar al-Assad's regime

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 writes about his experiences in the hands of the Syrian opposition near Homs this week "Set up to be shot in Syria's no-man's land?" Alex Thomson says crew was led to 'free-fire zone' as deaths would discredit Bashar al-Assad's regime
Standing outside the Safir Hotel in Homs as the white UN Nissan landcruisers stood waiting, the Irish officer in charge, Mark Reynolds, came over: “Usual rules Alex OK? We’re not responsible for you guys. If you get into trouble we’ll leave you, yes? You’re on your own.”

“Yup – no problem Mark. Understood.”

I always say that, sort of assuming it will never come to that in any case.

Just two UN plus the local police white patrol car marked “Protocol” as escort, moving south through the peaceful areas of Homs, unmarked by war.

Barely ten minutes south from the city and it’s goodbye protocol. The last Syrian Army checkpoint is right on the main highway south to Damascus.

We’re headed west – just follow the direction the tank barrel is pointing next to the parked protocol car and you get the idea.

There’s always that slight tightening of the stomach across deserted no-mans-land, but this is open country, no sign of fighting.

Presently, the first motorbike picks us up and we are across and into the first Free Syrian Army checkpoint.

After a long and dusty half-hour of tracks across olive groves, we arrive at al Qusayr, to the predictable crowd scene.

The UN settles down for a long meeting with the civilian and military leaders here. It looks much like an Afghan “shura” to me. Everyone is cross legged on the cushions around the room, except it is Turkish coffee passed round rather than chai.

We settle down to filming outside. The women and boys bring us oranges and chairs in the heat. Shell fragments are produced to be filmed. They explain how the shelling will begin again as soon as we leave – a claim which, by its nature, must remain untested, though there is certainly extensive shell damage in some parts of town here.

So we while away the time, waiting for the UN to move – they’re the only way across the lines with any degree of safety of course.

But time drags. Our deadline begins to loom. And there’s this really irritating guy who claims to be from “rebel intelligence” and won’t quite accept that we have a visa from the government.

In his book foreign journos are people smuggled in from Lebanon illegally and that’s that. We don’t fit his profile.

He and his mates are making things difficult for our driver and translator too – their Damascus IDs and our Damascus van reg are not helping.

This is new. Different. Hostile. This is not like Homs or Houla and still the UN meeting drags on in the hot afternoon…

We decide to ask for an escort out the safe way we came in. Both sides, both checkpoints will remember our vehicle.

Set up to be shot?

Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind.

We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s-land.

At that point there was the crack of a bullet and one of the slower three-point turns I’ve experienced. We screamed off into the nearest side-street for cover.

Another dead-end.

There was no option but to drive back out onto the sniping ground and floor it back to the road we’d been led in on.

Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared.

I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.

That conviction only strengthened half an hour later when our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side-street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead.

The UN duly drove back past us, witnessed us surrounded by shouting militia, and left town.

Eventually we got out too and on the right route, back to Damascus.

In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what’s the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone?

It was nothing personal.
 Source: Channel 4 News

See also interviews with Revd Adib Awad and Revd Haroutune Silimian

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Some Facts About Iran's Nuclear Activities

The Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) in Ireland have published a 24 page booklet by Dr David Morrison about Iran's nuclear activities. In summary, he writes:
  • Iran has no nuclear weapons
  • Iran has no nuclear weapons programme
  • Iran is not in breach of any obligations under the NPT
  • Uranium enrichment is Iran’s “inalienable right” under the NPT
  • The US and its allies are trying to deny Iran its right to uranium enrichment under the NPT
  • Iran’s nuclear facilities are open to IAEA inspection
  • A double standard is being applied with regard to nuclear weapons in the Middle East:-
  • (1) Iran, which has none, is the object of ferocious economic sanctions and threats of military action;
  • (2) Israel, which has many (perhaps as many as 400) and the ability to deliver them to any capital in the Middle East, is the object of over $3 billion a year of military aid.
  • The US, Israel and others, who are threatening military action against Iran, are in breach of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, which requires that all UN member states “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
“The United States, European allies and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran's nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead.” (Reuters Special Report, 23 March 2012)

Download a pdf version here and text version here

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) Visit to Iran

Last week I participated in the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) visit to Iran to meet church leaders in Tehran and participate in a consultation with Islamic leaders at the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, Tehran and the University of Religions in Qom. Here are some of the video interviews made during the week.
Tehran Evangelical Church Singers from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, Tehran from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian in Iran from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Revd Haroutune Silimian on Syria from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Revd Adib Awad on Syria from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Dr Mohsen Shojakhani on the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, Tehran from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Revd Dr Majid Abdel on Iran and Pakistan. from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Tehran Bazaar from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

A Stunning Panoramic View of Tehran from the Milad Tower from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Syria: The Unpalatable Truth

Revd Adib Awad on Syria from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

I am just back from a visit to Iran with Evangelical church leaders from the Middle East. Revd Adib Awad is General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. He was raised as a child with Bashar Al-Assad and knows him well.

Revd Awad insists Qatar and Saudi Arabia along with the US are funding mercenaries from Libya and Iraq to attack civilians in Syria and that the army are not responsible. He is convinced the President enjoys the support of at least 75% of Syrians. He insists none of Syria's diplomats around the world has defected to the opposition. He is confident that the Kofi Annan report will exonerate the Syrian government and that the external forces seeking to destabilise Syria will not succeed.

Revd Haroutune Silimian on Syria from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Revd Haroutune Selimian is President of the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syria. In this interview he claims the US and Western backed militia are responsible for much of the violence in Syria. He is hopeful that Syria will remain united and defeat those seeking regime change.

See also:

Syria: The Unpalatable Truth

Syria: The Proxy War

Five Syrian Nightmares

The Plight of Christians in Syria
Syria: The Next Yugoslavia or maybe Somalia?

Western 'Christian' Backed Opposition Targetting Syrian Christians?
Syrian Christians Catalysts for Peace

Syria: Its all about Oil

Pray for Syria