AN UPDATE ON THE WAR IN SYRIA
By Donnelly McCleland
The following is an update summary, rather than a detailed article on a number of recent happenings in Syria. The Christian perspective comes from personal interaction with a gathering of Syrian pastors in Lebanon who shared with members of the INcontext team.
In the news
The al-Naseeb border crossing between Jordan and Syria officially reopened after a three-year closure. More than 7,000 trucks made the crossing between Syria and Jordan daily before the passage was forced to close in 2015. Observers on both sides expressed hopes that the reopening would help improve the economies in both countries. Syrian government forces recaptured the passage in August, but lengthy procedural discussions delayed the crossing’s official reopening until Monday [15 October]. Economic observers said the border passage generated nearly $600 million in trade yearly before war in Syria began in 2011. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in Damascus that the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing was a major event for the people of Syria and Jordan. (Voice of America)
Of Syria’s 19 border points with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, the Syrian government now controls more than half, including all of those with Lebanon, two each with Jordan and Iraq and two closed crossings with Turkey. The most recent opening of the border with Jordan was lauded by both sides as a vital economic step for both countries. Jordanian government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat described the crossing as a “vital commercial lifeline for commercial movement between Jordan and Syria and through them to several countries”. Samer Dibs, head of Syria’s Chamber of Industry, said in an interview with state-sponsored Jordanian broadcaster Al Mamlaka TV that the crossing’s “importance is a shared one for Syria, Jordan and Lebanon … as well as for gulf nations”. It was also pointed out that it would form the gateway for Jordanian companies to participate in Syria’s post-war reconstruction.
Further north, in the province of Idlib, there were also promising signs that diplomacy was being given a fair chance, as the Monday 15 October deadline for disarming the buffer zone came and went without a resumption of airstrikes. Russia and Turkey indicated that they plan to give more time for the implementation of their de-escalation deal in Idlib, saying they were optimistic that more could be achieved through negotiation. Idlib has now gone five weeks without an air raid.
Areas of concern
According to a report on Saturday 19 October by Syrian news agency SANA, 62 people were killed in 24 hours due to US-led airstrikes on the country’s eastern province of Deir al-Zour. The US-led coalition backs the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the region in their efforts to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in a few areas the terrorist group still holds on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Deir al-Zour. The Syrian Foreign Ministry recently urged the UN to conduct an international investigation into the “crimes” of the US-led coalition in Syria. The Syrian government has repeatedly charged that the US uses the battles against IS as a pretext to keep intervening in Syria’s affairs. The Syrian government insists that the US presence is illegal since they were never invited by the Syrian government. President Trump previously maintained that the US would only remain in Syria for the purpose of eliminating the IS threat, but last month, US National Security advisor John Bolton indicated that US troops would remain in Syria for as long as Iranian forces (invited by the Assad government) played a role in Syria.
In the north-eastern corner of Syria where Kurdish forces maintain control, there have been increasing incidences of intimidation from Kurdish authorities towards Christians (including Assyrians and Chaldeans), including the closure of Christian schools. An outspoken Assyrian journalist, Souleman Yusph, was recently arrested and his personal effects confiscated by Kurdish authorities after he posted pictures and messages criticising the decision to close Christian schools, stressing that it would harm the cultural and educational heritage of the Assyrian community. Mr Yusph was not formally charged, but is keeping a low profile since his arrest.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The following thoughts are from an INcontext team member who met recently with Syrian pastors at a gathering in Lebanon.
Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). An INcontext team just returned from Lebanon where they met several Christian leaders from different regions in Syria. They are not refugees – for seven years, they have faithfully ministered to the people of Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Jazeera and Jaramana. The message they shared was unexpected: it was not a message of people lamenting their circumstances and bemoaning the fact that they were victims in an unjust society. Without exception, the one message they all shared was simply: “THIS IS GOD’S TIME FOR SYRIA!”
In Acts 9:10, it was in Damascus where the disciple named Ananias was called by the Lord in a vision to go to Paul and reveal to him that he was a chosen vessel to bear the Lord’s name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. It is in Damascus today where leaders share the same bold, determined and redemptive vision of Paul to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. “People are running to Jesus,” one pastor proclaimed, “and we are ready to welcome them.” One young girl boldly shared how she came to know Christ in Lebanon after fleeing from Aleppo. “There WILL be a revival in Syria,” she shared with conviction, “and we are the generation that will be the instruments.”
The opposite of Proverbs 29:18 rings true for Syria today – where there IS vision, the people flourish. “THIS IS GOD’S TIME FOR SYRIA!”
- For a lasting resolution in the province of Idlib
- For believers in Syria to continue to be God’s instruments of hope and life
- For the many people who are seeking the truth to meet Christ