“Time is short,” Hamdallah said Tuesday. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is trying to buy time… but this time he will not escape the international community.”
The PA prime minister was speaking during a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in the region to drum up support for the French plan. Valls arrived Sunday and met with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives to discuss the matter.
While the Palestinians favor the French peace initiative, which would see foreign ministers of 20 countries meet in Paris on June 3 in an attempt to resolve the matter without either Israeli or Palestinian representatives present, Israel has consistently maintained that only direct negotiations are a viable means to achieving the desired outcome.
On Monday, Netanyahu accused the PA of using the French summit as an excuse to avoid direct talks with Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority does not see the French initiative as an inducer for negotiations, but as a way to avoid them,” he said.
Instead, Netanyahu offered, he would meet with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas face-to-face, “in Paris or wherever”, and “every difficult issue will be on the table.” No international mediation required.
Valls expressed support for the idea of direct talks, saying he would take the matter to French President Francois Hollande.
According to the French plan, following the June summit, another meeting, this time with Israel and the Palestinians present, would be held in the fall, intended to restart the process of negotiation which stalled in 2014, when a US peace initiative failed.
In Aleppo the fierce fighting continues. After the peace agreement was broken by the armed opposition, Syrian government forces launched an offensive in order to completely blockade and take control of the western part of the city that had been seized by militants.
Anti-government forces regularly shell civilians in Aleppo’s Christian neighborhoods and in the Sheikh Maqsood district that is inhabited by Kurds.
One result of this new phase in the military campaign has been an increase in the influence of jihadist groups, especially Jabhat al-Nusra. It is this group and its allies that Turkey and the US are trying to proclaim the «moderate opposition», which is supposedly capable of battling the Islamic State. But when it comes to their methods for disposing of political opponents and Christians, these radical Islamic groups are indistinguishable.
What has prompted these changes in Ankara’s behavior – a country that until recently was considered the unofficial patron of the Islamic State? First of all, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria, which have close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, have recently proven successful in their fight against IS. They have taken control of the northeastern section of the Syrian-Turkish border and could move west. Erdogan’s government is eager to prevent Kurdish units from advancing toward the strategically important cities of Azaz and Jarabulus. They are trying to seize these locations themselves, hiding behind the rallying cry of «The Battle Against the Islamic State». Second, after the blows inflicted by Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces, the Erdogan family’s oil business deals with Deash are no longer as profitable as they once were. All this is forcing Ankara to roll back its cooperation with IS and switch to working with Jabhat al-Nusra and its related groups.
Ankara’s change of tactics in regard to Syria has Washington’s full support. The Americans’ recent shipment of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Turkey is setting off alarm bells. These systems are capable of firing missiles 90 kilometers deep into Syrian territory. In his May 10 interview with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia of big problems ahead if it continued to support the Syrian government army’s offensive in Aleppo. He noted that «Russia has an interest in not being bogged down forever in Syria... [and] becoming the target of the entire Sunni world and having every jihadi in the region coming after Russia».
The US is willing to do anything it takes to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s government from gaining strength.
If the government troops achieve military success in the Aleppo region, about 90% of Syrian territory would then be under the control of the legitimate government. And that is not part of the West’s plan. Therefore, John Kerry is threatening to set an August 2016 deadline for Russia to help form a «transitional government» in Syria, claiming that otherwise shipments of American weapons will begin flowing to the «moderate opposition».
We know very well what an American-style «transition period» looks like – we saw it in Iraq and Libya. That period began in Iraq after the American occupation in 2003 and it continues to this day, accompanied by constant explosions in Baghdad, chronic corruption, and a civil war in the country’s northern provinces. In Libya the «transition period» ended with the collapse of the state. And this is the future the US has in mind for Syria. The old plans haven’t changed.
When you think of Christianity in the Middle East, the first word that probably comes to mind is persecution.
But another word should come to mind – harvest.
The year 2015 was certainly a year of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ in the Muslim world. But one of the reasons for this is the large number of Muslims who have left the religion of Islam and now embrace Jesus as their Savior.
That said, persecution is not stopping the spread of the gospel. To the contrary, the killing of Christians is accelerating the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. In fact, over the centuries, oppressors have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative. It doesn’t destroy the church; it makes the church grow.
Welcome to the New Middle East. Muslims all over the region are coming to faith in Christ. What’s more, they’re willing to suffer persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ in part because they see a great harvest of other Muslims and want to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation in a world of such darkness.
Here are some of the things my wife and team and I have been seeing as we travel in and out of the region:
In November 2015, I took a team to a country in the Middle East and witnessed something phenomenal: 25 former Muslims baptized as new believers in Jesus. The city where we were has a steadily growing underground church – indeed, they’ve seen 90 Muslims receive Jesus recently. And that’s just in one city. One was a woman who is married to a Muslim Imam (religious cleric). When she embraced Jesus, her irate husband found out and threw her out of the house and kept their three children. He vowed that if she were baptized he would kill her. But there she was, one of the 25 lining up to be baptized, and when she came out of the water there was overwhelming relief and joy on her face. By the world’s standards, she has lost everything, but she was not willing to deny Jesus and her love for Him.
In Syria, Farid – a pastor and national Christian leader – says: “We’ve never seen Muslims come to Jesus like this. The ongoing civil war in our country has soured many to religion since this is essentially a religious war. Jesus brings something that religion can never deliver. He brings hope and reconciliation.” Farid says that the Syrian underground church is growing rapidly and in some home groups Alawites and Muslims worship together. “In the streets of Syria, they are killing one another, but when they find Jesus and reconcile with the Father, only then can they reconcile to one another. Jesus is the only hope for Syria. We have seen more than 1,000 Muslims come to faith in Christ in Syria in the last few years. This brings us great joy in Syria.”
A pastor in Jordan named, Amir, says: “The amazing occurrence of dreams about Jesus seems to be even growing. Of the hundreds of Muslims that we are working with, the majority of them claim to have had one or more Jesus dreams. Jesus tells them in the dream how He loves them. What a message Jesus has in this sea of hatred all around us.
In February of 2015, ISIS killed 21 Christians on the beach in Libya and released the horrific footage of their beheading. The video showed 20 Egyptian men and one man from Chad walking onto the beach in orange jumpsuits and an ISIS terrorist with their covered, in all black, leading each prisoner. The picture summarized the year of persecution for the church. In fact, it became a defining moment for the persecuted church in the region, much like the image of the lone Chinese dissident standing in front of a column of oncoming tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In October of 2015, I took a small team to Egypt to meet the wives of those brave martyrs. Before we left, I happened to mention on a national radio program in the States what we were going to do. I said that we were going to Egypt to encourage these dear widows and bring letters that our e3 Partners team had written. We were so surprised but encouraged when listeners began to write letters to the martyrs for us to take with us. Over 2,000 from around the world poured in within two days. A kindergarten class from a Christian school even drew pictures and sent them in since they were too young to write. Emails came in from countries around the world. What a blessing these messages of solidarity were to these faithful Christian women.
During the research I did for my book, Killing Christians, I came to believe that persecuted believers have become the face of genuine Christianity around the world. As Evangelicals, we may not agree with every element of theology of the Coptic Church that these men came from. But in meeting their families and hearing their stories, there is no question in my mind that these men truly loved the Lord Jesus with their whole hearts, and I was moved that they were more than willing to die for Him.
We visited their widows in their simple poverty-stricken villages. They told us how their husbands had been held captive and tortured for 45 days but they never gave in to the free ticket out that was promised to them if all they would do is convert to Islam. One widow shared this: “How is it that we were given this privilege and honor to have someone in our family die for Jesus? We are just humble village people in an insignificant village in Egypt. But yet Jesus selected my husband for the most important thing we could ever do in life-to die for Jesus!”
So why is it that Muslims are now coming to faith in Christ in significant numbers? One of the reasons is that Islamic terrorists are killing violently for their faith, while followers of Jesus are dying peacefully for their faith. Muslims are watching the violence and it has soured them towards their religion. It has also opened them up to the possibility that there may be something to this Jesus after all. They see hate in Radical Islam and love among the Jesus followers, even as they are taken to be executed. What a contrast.
Yes, Christians are being persecuted openly in the Middle East. But they are standing strong, and this has served to spread the gospel even more rapidly. In a world of bad news, that is very good news.
Let us thank God for this – and let us be faithful in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, that the Lord would give them strength and courage and boldness to keep living for Christ and keep preaching the Gospel, come what may.
Despite the persecution, killing, and terrorism in the Middle East, this is one of the Church’s finest hours.