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Islamic State continues to commit severe crimes against humanity. This weekend, the group released horrifying images of the execution of a blindfolded man in the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria. The man was thrown off a roof and his body stoned as a punishment for being homosexual. A large crowd of spectators, including children, gathered at the area to witness the horror and to stone the body of the man.
In northern Syria, Islamic State terrorists abducted at least 220 Christians over the last week. The Islamists carried out several dawn raids on rural villages inhabited by the ancient Christian Assyrian minority in Syria. The action came after Assyrian fighters helped the Kurdish YPG militia in an offensive in which several Arab villages in the area were seized from Islamic State. At least 14 Islamic State terrorists died in the offensive. Military experts following Islamic State said that the group is trying to open a new front to relieve pressure after IS suffered a string of losses since being driven from the Kurdish town of Kobani last month.
The onslaught forced thousands of Assyrian Christians to flee from their homes. Hundreds of them arrived at the city of Hasaka, which is jointly held by Assad’s army and the Kurds.
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The fate of the kidnapped Assyrians remains unclear. The abductions have compounded new fears among Christians in northern Syria and Iraq. Many Christians in Iraq and Syria have been targeted by Islamic State, which is killing them, driving them from their homes, enslaving the women, and destroying their places of worship. When Islamic State conquered the large Iraqi city Mosul last summer, an ultimatum was issued to Christians: pay a tax and convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most of the Christians fled.
The Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are rapidly disappearing. In 2003, the Christian population in Iraq was well over a million. Now it is less than half of that.
Some people in the West have now taken private action in an attempt to stop the Islamic State atrocities against Christians. In February, Reuters interviewed an US Army veteran and other Westerners who recently went to Iraq to join a Christian militia fighting Islamic State. The militia is called Dwekh Nawsha – meaning self-sacrifice – in Aramaic, the language spoken in Israel and other parts of the Middle East in ancient times and still used by Assyrian Christians. The Assyrian Christians consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.
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Bret, the US Army veteran, told Reuters that he returned to Iraq to help fight for the Christian faith. He withheld his last name out of concern for his family’s safety.
Scott, a software engineer who also served in the US Army, said that he was “mesmerized by images of Islamic State terrorists hounding Iraq’s Yazidi minority and became fixated on the struggle for the Syrian town of Kobani.” Scott arrived in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah in the beginning of February. He then took a taxi to Duhok, where he joined Dwekh Nawsha’s ranks together with a British volunteer. All of them said they were prepared to stay in Iraq indefinitely. US Army Vet Brett even said that he was prepared to die and cited a verse from the Bible: “be faithful unto death, and I shall give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
In Syria, a Christian militia known as the Syria Military Council, which formed a coalition with the Kurdish YPG, succeeded in retaking the town of Tel Hamis on Friday. The retaking of Tel Hamis marked the first military victory of a Christian militia in Syria.
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In Iraq, government forces and Shiite militias on Sunday finally launched their long-awaited ground offensive against Islamic State in Salahuddin province. Thousands of Shiite fighters arrived near the ancient city of Tikrit for the battle against Islamic State. One of the goals of the operation is to take back the city of Mosul. Over the weekend, Islamic State launched preemptive strikes against Shiite targets in the city of Samarra. A long battle is expected.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Islamic State’s atrocities have triggered unique security cooperation between several Arab countries and Israel. This happened after Islamic State beheaded 21 Christian Coptic Egyptians in Libya and burned alive a Jordanian pilot who was captured after his plane went down during an airstrike on Islamic State positions in Syria.
The London-based paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported last week that Aguileh Saleh, the president of Libya’s elected parliament, proposed the appointment of General Khalifa Haftar as Libya’s top military commander. Haftar, who has set himself up as a warrior against Islamist terrorism, secretly visited Egypt twice last week. He received weapons from President al-Sisi of Egypt. Haftar is known for his good ties with al-Sisi, and his war planes joined Egyptian jets in bombing Islamic State targets in Libya after the beheading of the Egyptian Christians. Al-Quds al-Arabi also reported that Haftar has plans to meet with Israeli officials in Amman. The report came after Libyan PM al-Thinni criticized the United States, Britain, and European Union for failing to supply arms to his army in order to battle Islamic State in Libya. The U.S. government has criticized the Egyptian military action in Libya. A spokesman for the Pentagon said that the crisis in Libya must be solved politically and without outside interference.
On Thursday, Jordan’s King Abdullah arrived in Cairo for talks about security cooperation in the battle against Islamic State. Earlier, President al-Sisi announced that Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had offered military support to Cairo following the killing of the Egyptian Christians. Jordan and Egypt also worked together in the UN Security Council to lift an UN arms embargo on Libya. The UN imposed a weapon embargo on Libya during the 2011 uprising against Khadafy.
As Western Journalism reported earlier, Islamic State is working to destabilize Jordan and Egypt. Both countries face huge economic problems and struggle to contain the rise of Islamism. After the Egyptian air strike on Islamic State targets in Libya, the Egyptian Army stepped up its operations against Islamic State affiliate Wilayat Sinai. Dozens of suspected Islamists were killed in an army operation in Sinai last week. Apache helicopter gunships killed 18 Islamic State terrorists after they destroyed four vans in North Sinai, and twenty Islamists were killed when the army bombed a residence and a youth center in the town of Sheikh Zuweid–where the IS fighters were gathering. In total, 178 insurgents were killed by the military in February.
Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation has increased significantly since the beginning of the Islamist insurgency in Sinai and the regime change in Cairo. With Israel’s tacit consent, the Egyptian Army has sent in forces to Sinai of a size and caliber far in excess of what the 1979 Camp David peace agreement allowed. Israel welcomed the return of senior officials in the old Mubarak regime to positions of power and worked to minimize international criticism of the Egyptian regime after the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Israeli government also witnessed with satisfaction how President al-Sisi changed Egypt’s attitude towards Hamas, which is now recognized as a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government and has been outlawed in Egypt.
President al-Sisi accuses Hamas of supporting the Islamist insurgency in Sinai and has taken draconian measures to end the smuggling of weapons to the Gaza-strip. Both Israel and Egypt place Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same category as Islamic State. All of them share the same Islamist ideology that was founded by Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb at the beginning of the twentieth century.