Syria…

Pictures emerge of thousands of residents of the Damascus district of Yarmouk, who have remained trapped for nearly a year, queuing for food and aid.

This picture taken on January 31, 2014, and released by the UNRWA on February 26, 2014, shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk queuing to receive food supplies in Damascus, Syria

This picture taken on January 31, 2014, and released by the UNRWA on February 26, 2014, shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk queuing to receive food supplies in Damascus, Syria…

More here.

 

Syria’s Archaeological Sites Ravaged by Bombing, Looting

Discovery has the sad news:

When Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, received an honorary Ph.D. in archeology in 2004 from the prestigious University of Rome “La Sapienza,” she stressed that such knowledge should be used “to foster mutual respect for what human societies have achieved over the millennia across the globe.”

Awarded for her role in the development of historical and archaeological studies and the preservation of the Syrian heritage, the degree was handed to al-Assad amid the ruins of the fabled ancient city of Ebla. The ceremony changed for the first time the University’s 700-year-old tradition which required the honorary degree to be given inside the city of Rome.

Ten years later, Asma is banned from traveling to all EU member states except the U.K, while bombing and looting have ravaged most of her country’s precious archaeological sites.

According to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural, education and science arm, illegal excavation in the past three years has spread everywhere, from Ebla, the site where Asma received her honorary Ph.D., to the ancient Sumerian city of Mari.

Apamea, a city founded in 300 B.C. by one of Alexander the Great”s generals, which boasted one of the longest and widest colonnades in the ancient world, “is completely destroyed by thousands and thousands of illegal diggings,”  Francesco Bandarin, assistant director-general for culture at the agency, warned at a news conference last week.

“A site has a value not only for the monuments that are destroyed but also for the values of the objects in the ground,” Bandarin said. “When this is lost, the scientific value of the site is clearly, clearly compromised,” he added.

To curb the destruction, the European Union gave UNESCO 2.5 million euros ($3.4 million) last week for a program aimed at fighting looting as well as raising awareness on Syria’s endangered cultural heritage…

… Syria’s cultural heritage is unique. As Asma al-Assad remarked in her acceptance speech of the doctorate, it’s a land where “those essential human attributes — culture, society and civilization — first flourished.”

Along with Mesopotamia, the country echoes the main advances made by humankind such as the birth of the first villages and what is believed to be the world’s first alphabet. Ironically, it is also here that archaeologists found the first evidence for the use of chemical weapons.

Over four millennia, Syria’s valleys and deserts have witnessed everything from Biblical civilizations, Roman conquerors and Christian Crusaders. The result is an abundance of unique monuments which include Roman cities, castles and forts, medieval Islamic markets, palaces, mosques and cathedrals.

“The country has tens of thousands of archaeological sites, not all of which have been recorded or even discovered yet. Before the crisis, new sites were being discovered all the time,” Emma Cunliffe, Global Heritage Preservation Fellow Postgraduate Researcher at Durham University, and author of “Damage to the Soul: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict,” told Discovery News…

Rest here.

 

Is Hezbollah About to Withdraw From Syria?

One can but hope so…(Photo: wikicommons/ yeowatzup)

Writing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, retired Israeli Brigadier General Shimon Shapira wonders if the ongoing debate inside Iran on the expenditure on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a portent of an upcoming Iranian disengagement from civil war-torn Syria in the form of pulling out Iran’s client terror organization, Hezbollah:

Although Hezbollah’s leaders claim it is fighting in Syria in order to protect Lebanon, Lebanese Shiites are not convinced and Hezbollah’s supporters are dubious. Hezbollah has now lost almost 350 men in Syria, not all of whom have been brought back to Lebanon for burial, while the number of wounded has passed a thousand. This puts into question Hezbollah’s ability to keep sacrificing its fighters in Syria when its target of jihad is Israel.

 

The Ministry of an Orthodox Army Chaplain

Have Icon, Will Travel:

At 11:20 p.m. on April 3, 2010, a loud explosion broke the night silence around the main chapel on Bagram Air Field (BAF) in Afghanistan.

I was putting on my vestments in preparation for the midnight Paschal services. A few of the attendees rushed outside the wooden building to see what was happening. Then, two minutes later, a second shell landed so close that it rocked the chapel as if an earthquake had hit us.

At that point, the intrepid souls outside were summoned back inside the chapel to at least a modicum of safety under our wooden roof, which was better than open air. And I confronted my own mortality with a calm serenity that, frankly, surprised me. Was this a “creeping” rocket or mortar bombardment that would take out our chapel next—and those of us in it? If so, there was nothing we could do about it except continue to prepare for the Feast of Feasts: the situation was truly in God’s hands.

My first thought after the second shell exploded was of my family—the shock and grief they would have to endure if, in the next few minutes, I became a casualty of war.

My second thought was more hopeful. Here I was, vesting for the Divine Liturgy on the greatest night of the Christian year, putting on the “whole armor of God” as befits a priest, in the presence of U.S. and Coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who were in a God-forsaken corner of the world to restore justice and peace after the atrocities of 9/11. What better way to die than with our boots on, literally, and gathered together to celebrate the conquest of sin, death, and injustice by our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ?

Well, the third shell never arrived, praise God, and we proceeded to celebrate Pascha with a joy—and relief—that none of us had ever known.

That was my last night on my last 30-day tour in Afghanistan, after five years back on active duty as a U.S. Army chaplain for the express purpose of visiting Orthodox U.S. and Coalition forces in the combat areas two or three times each year. I retired from the Army, as planned, two months later, after 24 and a half years of service, delighted to be alive and thankful for the unique, unexpected opportunities with which I had been blessed.

A New Military Ministry

Now, I have a confession. On September 11, 2001, I did . . . nothing! Not by choice, to be sure, but owing to circumstances. When the second hijacked U.S. civilian airplane hit the World Trade Center in New York City at 9:03 a.m., I immediately donned my military uniform—the old “woodland” camouflage battle dress uniform—and waited for the inevitable phone call from Fort A.P. Hill. The armory of my Engineer Brigade, 28th Infantry Division (Mechanized), in the Virginia Army National Guard, for which I served part-time as chaplain, was the Emergency Operations Center for more than half of the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Surely, I thought, we’d be mobilized to prepare for possible attacks by the then unknown terrorists elsewhere in our country, perhaps even in Virginia.

Minutes after the third hijacked airplane crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., I called my brigade commander and learned to my dismay that we had received no alert, no mobilization—no nothin’!

So I sat by the silent phone in front of a television set, waiting in vain until evening, when I traveled to my Orthodox parish church in Falls Church, Virginia, to offer a panikhida memorial service for all the victims of that fateful day.

But it was precisely 9/11 that, a few years later in 2005, launched a new military ministry in the combat areas in southwest Asia.

Few but Demanding

The Eastern Orthodox demographics in the U.S. armed forces are rather paltry—only an estimated 0.3 percent (that’s point three) of our uniformed personnel. But along with the Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, we’re a major, historic, unique “faith group” with unique religious needs and obligations that only clergy of our faith identity and endorsement can serve. Thus, each of these faith groups is deemed HD/LD: a “high demand/low density” religion—in other words, at once too small and too unique for chaplains assigned at random to provide for their religious needs.

To meet the religious needs of our Eastern Orthodox personnel for the “Holy Mysteries”—the sacraments of Holy Communion, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick and Wounded—especially in combat areas, the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, a two-star general officer, decided to call me back to active-duty service upon the request of Metropolitan Herman (Swaiko), first hierarch and military chaplain endorser for the Orthodox Church in America. Though a recently promoted full-colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, I hardly expected this. Why fetch a chaplain who had served only part-time for most of his military career (after an initial tour of active duty in the 1980s) to serve in a senior, coveted colonel position, when there were plenty of regular Army colonels who had served their entire careers on active duty, with the multiple relocations and frequent uprooting of their families, including overseas assignments, that such service entailed?

But the Chief had already summoned a rabbi in the U.S. Army Reserve for the same purpose of going “downrange,” as we say, or into harm’s way, several times each year for the principal Jewish holy days. I would be Chaplain (Colonel) Ira Kronenberg’s Orthodox Christian counterpart.

When I first heard the news, I recalled the memorable line of Winston Churchill, one of my boyhood heroes, when he was summoned by King George VI to become Prime Minister of war-torn Great Britain in May 1940: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

Do read on here.

I certainly have enjoyed spending the last few minutes reading this well written presentation by Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster. And from the conclusion:

Unchanging Truth

The atrocities of 9/11 have changed America and perhaps the world forever and in unexpected ways. Now that I have retired from active military service and reflect on my wartime experiences as a chaplain, I can appreciate more than ever the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin during a critical impasse at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men.” And I take even greater comfort in one truth that, for Christians, remains a steadfast hope in times of crisis and trouble: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

 

It’s Taken an American to Expose the Brutal Truth of Britain’s Military Decline

The Telegraph:

Harrier on aircraft carrier

None of these, any more. (Photo: EPA)

Robert Gates’s devastating critique of Britain’s military decline since the Government’s ill-considered 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review is as long overdue as it is welcome.

The former US Defence Secretary, who served under both the Bush and Obama administrations having previously enjoyed a glittering career at the CIA, says the “fairly substantial reductions” to the defence budget undertaken by the Coalition mean that Britain can no longer viewed as a “full partner” by the US.

So far as our national security is concerned, this is simply devastating. Close military cooperation between Britain and the world’s only superpower if essential if we are to stand any chance of defending ourselves, as well as protecting our interests overseas.

But – as I have argued consistently since the SDSR cuts were announced – the Government has blithely pressed ahead with cutting the MOD’s budget without giving the slightest consideration to the damage it has inflicted to our defence capabilities, and the disastrous effect this would inevitably have on our standing as a leading military power.

In response to Mr Gates’s comments, the Ministry of Defence has trotted out its usual formula for defending the indefensible – Britain still has the fourth largest defence budget in the world,  still retains powerful military capabilities, blah, blah, blah…

 

Australia Now Has Suicide Bombers…

Has blown himself up in Syria.

An Australian jihadist fighting in Syria has reportedly blown himself up in a suicide bombing near a military airport in the country’s east.

For some time now concerns have been growing among the Australian intelligence community about the involvement of Australian jihadists who have travelled to fight in the Syrian conflict.

At least four Australians are known to have been killed in the fighting, but the news of the first Australian to become a suicide bomber is seen as a significant and troubling development.

According to various jihadi websites, at 5:45am on Wednesday the Australian known as Abu Asma al Australi drove a truck loaded with 12 tonnes of explosives into a checkpoint close to the Deir Al Zour military airport.

The website reports say the checkpoint, considered to be the first line of defence for the airport, was completely destroyed and 35 soldiers from the Assad regime were killed.

Abu Asma is described on one website as “our immigrant Lion”…

Rest here.

 

On Syria

al-Qaeda Vows to Slaughter Christians after U.S. ‘liberates’ Syria

From the pen of Raymond Ibrahim:

While U.S. leaders continue pushing for war against the Syrian government, today “Al-Qaeda-linked rebels,”reports AP, “launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday…  In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.”

Arabic news agency Al Hadath gives more information concerning this latest terror attack on Syria’s Christians, specifically how the al-Qaeda linked rebels “terrorized the Christians, threatening to be avenged on them after the triumph of the revolution.”

Thus al-Qaeda terrorists eagerly await U.S. assistance against the Syrian government, so they can subjugate if not slaughter Syria’s Christians, secularists, and non-Muslims — even as the Obama administration tries to justify war on Syria by absurdly evoking the “human rights” of Syrians on the one hand, and lying about al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria on the other.

 

What Moral Theologians Say About Getting Involved in Syria

Traditionally, moral theologians have argued that to use military force justly, one must have a just cause; the use of force must be the last resort; success must be probable; the means must be proportionate; and the military action must be by a legitimate authority.

As the Obama administration prepares to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, what are the ethicists saying about the morality of military intervention? In this article, I will examine their views about whether intervention in Syria fits the criteria of a just war. Links are provided to the more complete thoughts of each expert.

Just cause?

Do read on here.

 

Israel Fires Ballistic Missiles into the Mediterranean

I’ve long considered myself a ‘friend’ of Israel, but I have to ask: What are they thinking firing ballistic missiles at a time like this?

Reuters reports:

Israel tested a U.S.-backed missile system in the Mediterranean on Tuesday but did not announce the launch in advance, prompting a disclosure by Russia that kept the world on edge as the United States weighed an attack on Syria.

The morning launch was first reported by Moscow media that quoted Russian defense officials as saying two ballistic “objects” had been fired eastward from the center of the sea – roughly in the direction of Syria.

The news ruffled financial markets until Israel’s Defence Ministry said that it, along with a Pentagon team, had carried out a test-launch of a Sparrow missile. The Sparrow, which simulates the long-range missiles of Syria and Iran, is used for target practice by Israel’s U.S.-backed ballistic shield Arrow.

“Israel routinely fires missiles or drones off its shores to test its own ballistic defense capabilities,” a U.S. official said in Washington.

Western naval forces have been gathering in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea since President Bashar al-Assad was accused of carrying out an August 21 gas attack in his more than two-year-old conflict with rebels trying to topple him.

Damascus denies responsibility for the incident. U.S. President Barack Obama had been widely expected to order reprisal strikes on Syria last week but put them off to seek support from Washington lawmakers first.

With U.S. action on Syria delayed as Obama confers with Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to play up the Jewish state’s ability to deal with its foes alone. On Tuesday, the rightist premier spoke of anti-missile systems as a national “wall of iron”.

“These things give us the power to protect ourselves, and anyone who considers harming us would do best not to,” he said in a speech.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon shrugged off a question from reporters on whether the launch might have been ill-timed. He said Israel had to work to maintain its military edge and “this necessitates field trials and, accordingly, a successful trial was conducted to test our systems. And we will continue to develop and to research and to equip the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) with the best systems in the world.”

Arrow designer Uzi Rabin said tests of the anti-missile system are planned “long, long in advance” and generally go unnoticed. “What apparently made the difference today is the high state of tension over Syria and Russia’s unusual vigilance,” he told Reuters.

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman quoted by the Interfax news agency said the launch was picked up by an early warning radar station at Armavir, near the Black Sea, which is designed to detect missiles from Europe and Iran.

RIA, another Russian news agency, later quoted a source in Syria’s “state structures” as saying the objects had fallen harmlessly into the sea.

The Russian Defence Ministry declined comment to Reuters…

‘Ill-timed’ indeed. But perhaps a show of force?

 

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