The Plight of Palestinian Christians

The following link is lengthy (pardon the pun) but well worth watching. It is an excellent update on the above topic.

https://www.vomcanada.com/index.php?option=com_youtubegallery&view=youtubegallery&listid=26&themeid=4&videoid=145294782&tmpl=component&TB_iframe=true&height=550&width=630

Below, I have used the text from the conclusion of a slightly dated but nevertheless still very relevant book by Justus Reid Weiner, ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’ (full reference listed at the end of this article).  Throughout this article, I have  included latest updates of some of the events and issues raised in Weiner’s summary.

“The plight of the Palestinian Christian Community cannot remain the sacrificial pawn in the larger game of the Middle East peace process.”

A Backward Glance

In April 2002, the Church of the Nativity was invaded by more than 100 Palestinian Muslim gunmen who shot their way inside, while attempting to evade capture by Israeli soldiers who had entered Bethlehem (West Bank – my comment) to quell on-going terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings. As confirmed by Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander in the Tanzim militia, “the idea was to enter the Church in order to create international pressure on Israel” (Raab 2003). Reporting on the event, a Jerusalem-based cleric told the Jerusalem Post that, “propaganda is all that is being heard, in part because of the many cover-ups by the Christians who don’t dare speak up. They are cowards” (Gelfond 2002:260). The cleric explained that fear of Muslim terrorists silences both the churches and the communities. A Bethlehem priest quoted in the same article confirmed the assessment of the Jerusalem cleric, noting with anger, “I would have preferred silence rather than saying that everything is okay. We are worse than cowards, we are lying.” (Gefond 2002:260)

Even if peace negotiations are resumed and successfully navigate the numerous obstacles ahead, the fate of the average Palestinian will depend on the strength and orientation of his state’s institutions. The PA (Palestinian Authority) interim governing authority has proven itself incapable of guaranteeing the protection of the basic rights of Palestinian Christians, the most significant minority under its jurisdiction. One independent report stated that “the risk is that if present structures and practices go unreformed, they will shape and even predetermine future ones in negative ways.” The importance of monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated.

Some More Recent Developments

The recalcitrance of the PA to enforce international human rights standards, along with its refusal to respect the requirements of the Oslo interim agreements has made it an accomplice and even perpetrator of gross human rights abuses. Though the international community is tempted to donate further sums to the PA following the death of Yasser Arafat (in 2005 – my comment), they appear to be under the as yet unproven assumption that the ascendency of Mahmoud Abbas will rejuvenate the peace process and reinstate respect for human rights and religious freedom under the Palestinian Authority (my insert: elected interim prime minister in 2012 by Hamas and Fatah). This attempt at showing a united front has just been strengthened, as reported in an article by Aljazeera, dated 18.1.2017: “The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has agreed to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas, Al Jazeera has learned. The agreement was reached late on Tuesday after a three-day negotiation in the Russian capital, Moscow [‘due to America’s seeming pro-Israel new Trump administration’ – as mentioned in same article, my comment]. The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. “Today the conditions for [such an initiative] are better than ever,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time.”).

In the opinion of this author, the U.S., Israel, and other members of the international community should make human rights a major issue in any future peace negotiations. By using financial incentives during this pre-state stage, the U.S., Israel and international donor communities can prevent the egregious violations of human rights partially described in this monography from accompanying the PA into the emerging Palestinian state. The leverage of the donors is significant, with over 70 percent of the PA’s budget derived from foreign sources. (Sabella 2004).

(My insert: “…in budget years 2015 and 2016, …the US Agency for International Development …sent the Palestinians $355 million…” source: http://www.businessinsider.com, dated January 2017.

Quoting from Wikipedia: “The entities that provide aid to the Palestinians are categorized into seven groups: the Arab nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan, international institutions (including agencies of the UN system), European countries, and other nations (possibly Russia? – my comment).”

[My conclusion from research into this topic: NGO’s, involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, who have greatly increased in numbers, are said to act to protect human rights in this region of conflict, as well as exerting considerable influence over such huge organisations as the UN and the EU, have been shown to have overt or more often covert political bias against one or the other party involved; more often against Israel. Nevertheless, finding unbiased facts is extremely difficult, as even a widely respected “NGO monitor” is funded and staffed largely by the Jewish community! Bias seems to be ingrained in the human psyche! End of my comment]

Financial incentives can be earmarked to train PA security personnel in human rights practices, to construct modern penal institutions, and to reform the legal system.

Clearly, the U.S. has considerable economic leverage in the region, and could use that influence to demand human rights improvements. However, the [past – my comment] President may be reluctant to impose serious sanctions against the Palestinian entity or even push human rights as an issue in the peace talks. The primary objective of the U.S. in the region is peace and the secondary objective is the fight against terrorism. To rebuke the PA or to make human rights an issue in the negotiations would cause the U.S. to lose influence with the PA [my comment: which seems to have happened under Trump, as identified previously by Aljazeera] when dealing with other, ‘more important’ issues.

However, in the opinion of this author, the PA’s adoption of sound human rights policies and practices would contribute immeasurably to the success of the peace process. Although Arafat’s commitment to these values in the agreements was vague at best, the Palestinians’ expectations regarding an improvement in their lives deserves to be met, and should not be limited to issues of pride or economics. As the international community furnishes financial resources to the emerging Palestinian state, it should reflect on its complicity in the human rights abuses that have emerged.

If the internal reforms fail and pressure from the U.S., Israel, and the donor communities does not materialize, there is one last resort for the Palestinian Christians. Since the PA is not a sovereign state even it has administrative responsibilities in designated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli military rule is still in effect in the territories. This means that, legally speaking, human rights are the responsibility of the PA on a day-to-day basis, but the ultimate legal responsibility rests with Israel (Weiner 1995). Of course, the current Israeli government …frustrated by endemic Palestinian terrorism, would appear ill disposed to shouldering this responsibility, given its policy of unilateral disengagement.

(Insert: …in the enclave [Gaza strip], where some two million Palestinians live… Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
The UN development agency has said the enclave, run by Islamist movement Hamas, could become uninhabitable by 2020, while others have warned of frustration spilling over and leading to fresh violence.

Israel strictly controls traffic into and out of Gaza, while the enclave’s border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to keep Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.

Mike Smith (Tel Aviv), Middelburg Observer, 30 March 2017)

Therefore, the Israeli Supreme Court is the last resort for Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of the PA. The Supreme Court, long a liberal voice, has in recent years become increasingly committed to improving human rights and the rule of law, frequently demonstrating its commitment to ensuring human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, the Palestinian Christians living in the PA would be reluctant to utilize Israeli legal institutions, but, as victims, they clearly have a need for an institution of last resort, as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of Christians who have left the territories.

It seems logical that, instead of turning to Israeli courts, the Palestinian Christians should be able to turn to the PA’s justice system. This however, would be largely unproductive at the present time. The PA’s justice system has no practical autonomy from the executive branch, even though it is independent in theory. The PA President and Justice Minister can hire, fire, retire, and otherwise control all judicial employees, including judges at all levels. Two previous chief justices were ‘retired’ by the executive branch, one possibly for un unsympathetic comment made against the PA in an interview, and the second for a decision that called for the release of ten Birzeit University students who were being detained unlawfully. (Amnesty 1999:7)

The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance and the rejection of fundamentalist and archaic attitudes towards non-Muslims. As long as the Constitution of the PA reflects the principles of Sharia law, it seems as though the emergence of religious tolerance will remain highly unlikely. Additionally, the PA must crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and eliminate their influence and role as the enforcers of the more brutal aspects of Sharia law [my comment: which appears even more unlikely than when this report was written, as they have now formed a threesome alliance; Fatah/Hamas/Islamic Jihad, see previous insert published by Aljazeera].

The testimonies (more found in the actual book – my comment) provided in this monograph make it pointedly clear that lawlessness and anarchy have swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years. Gangs of thugs and thieves have created what a former Palestinian cabinet minister described as “total chaos”. It is essential that the PA arrest these militants who, in their range of mafia-like conduct, frequently abuse and intimidate Christians. (Toameh 2002c)

The political conflict, or halting efforts to resolve it, can no longer be used by the international community as an excuse for evading responsibility for the gross human rights abuses the Palestinian Christian community has come to accept. Human rights standards cannot any longer be subordinated to political motives. Only when the international community is prepared to stand behind the lofty ideals enumerated in its formative instruments, with its full economic and political resources, will the perpetrators of such abuses be forced to relinquish habits of abuse and ascribe to the norms expected of all sovereign entities.”

Main body of this extract taken from ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’, written by Justus, Reid Weiner, 2005: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Advertisements

REFUGEE CRISIS EXACERBATED BY RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

REFUGEE CRISIS EXACERBATED BY RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

Religious persecution plays a “central role” in the global displacement crisis according to Open Doors 2017 World Watch List. The charity noted that more than half of the world’s 65.3m refugee population come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, all countries in which it has become extremely dangerous to identify as a Christian. In its supplementary report, The Persecution of Christians and Global Displacement, Open Doors said that religious persecution was a “dangerously underestimated” factor behind some people’s decision to flee their homes. The charity estimated that around half of Syria’s 1.7m Christians have left their country due to conflict and persecution. It also said that around 2.1m Nigerians have fled because of various factors, including attacks on Christians by Boko Haram jihadists.

In Asia and Mexico, Christians were driven from their villages for practising a faith differed from that of the majority. Pastor Aminu Sule from Nigeria said his congregation had shrunk from 400 to 20 as Christians fled from attacks by Boko Haram. He said: “I can’t count the number of people I have buried.” Once displaced, Pastor Sule said that Christians are often denied access to aid distributed by the local government. “They are dying of hunger and I cannot help them,” he said. Daniel, a church leader in Iraq, described how he fled from Baghdad after receiving a death threat from Al-Qaeda. His church has helped look after some of the 120,000 Christians chased out by Islamic State, but he added that many had since chosen to be resettled in “countries that respect their human rights”.

The report found some migrants were attacked after leaving their countries, and cited a Nigerian Christian who was abducted and repeatedly assaulted by a gang who had seen a Bible in his pocket. The charity urged the British government to support the right to freedom of religion and belief and to “target” nations where there is violent persecution of religious minorities. It noted that the UK Home Office claims that Pakistani Christians were not at “real risk of persecution.” The report also called on the Home Office to “increase the religious literacy of its staff” so that those who processed asylum applications could recognise instances of religious persecution. It urged the Home Office not to restrict visas for religious leaders invited to the UK to share of the suffering in their own countries.

The UK Home Office faced criticism last month after it denied three archbishops from Iraq and Syria visas to attend the consecration of a Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London, on the grounds that they lacked sufficient funds to support themselves and they might not leave the UK. Open Doors UK and Ireland urged the British Foreign Office to prioritise freedom of religion and recognise championing that right as a way to combat terrorism and poverty, arguing that unchecked political oppression of a minority “creates a breeding ground for violent and radical groups”.  In India, it said, since the landslide election of Hindu nationalist President Narendra Modi in 2014, there has been “a deterioration in freedom in all aspects of Indian society, and Hindu radicals have virtual impunity from the Government”.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Brief overview of present – day Greece

Greece’s Economic & Political Climate:

The (Greek) economy has shrunk by a quarter in five years, and unemployment is about 25 percent.

The (EU) bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold.

The government will now need to continue putting in place deep economic overhauls required by the bailout deal Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras brokered in August (2015), as well as the unwinding of capital controls introduced after political upheaval prompted a run on Greek banks.

Greece’s relations with Europe are in a fragile state, and several of its leaders are showing impatience, unlikely to tolerate the foot-dragging of past administrations. Under the terms of the bailout, Greece must continue to pass deep-reaching overhauls, many of them measures that were supposed to have been passed years ago.

The New York Times, June 2016

 

The situation in Greece is extremely volatile! The economic crisis of the last several years is getting worse and worse without any real end in sight. Unemployment is on the rise and affecting every working age group. Incomes are decreasing; the cost of living is continuing to rise, as are taxes. All of this has created a situation that has left families devastated and unable to provide for themselves. Hope is diminishing day by day and people are continuing to respond thru protests and rioting!

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

 Over the last 6 years, Greece has suffered an unprecedented exodus of young professionals, igniting the potential for a massive brain drain in the years to come. This phenomenon is due to high levels of unemployment among people under 25 years of age. Youth unemployment is now at 52%, down from 63% in 2013. High levels of youth emigration, coupled with unsustainable low levels of repopulation, could result in massive instability for future generations.

A recent study by the City of Athens Homeless Shelter (KYADA) found that 71% of all homeless population in the capital have been on the streets for 5 years or less. Of these, the great majority are Greek men aged 35-55. The latest figures reveal the destructive toll the economic crisis has taken on local individuals and families.

Pray for Greece Ministry

 

Greece’s (Muslim) Refugee Situation:  Greece is at the gateway of the Middle-East. There are some who have called it the doorstep of the 10/40 window. Due to its location and vast coastline, Greece has seen an unprecedented influx of clandestine Muslim immigrants from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle-East. These men, women and children have come here searching for a better life but have been met with great disappointment. As is typical in many situations like these; the situation has grown increasingly challenging for these refugees as they’ve been caught in the bureaucratic maze of the asylum process and face a significant degree of animosity toward them from the Greek people. However it has been amazing to see growing numbers of Greek believers and many local Protestant churches step in to help and represent the love of Christ to these suffering people.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

Insert: https://youtu.be/_PToQuxvZgM  (Al Jazeera’s report on Syrian refugees in Europe, Oct. 2015)

 

Greece’s Spiritual Climate:

Although Greece was the first nation in Europe to receive the gospel (Acts 16-18) it has become one of the most unreached countries in the world. Out of a population of 11 million, there are less than .02% who are born-again disciples of Jesus Christ. By law it is technically illegal to “proselytize” or share the gospel with non-believers. In Athens alone, the city we minister in, there are nearly 6 million people, but only about 50 evangelical/protestant churches.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

Despite the fact that the European Union constitutionally guarantees the freedom of worship and religion, only a few historic mainline protestant and episcopal churches operate with a valid church license in Greece today. Non-Orthodox Christian churches face many roadblocks in order to legally exist. This situation also affects missionaries and other religious workers who face tremendous opposition when requesting visas. Prayer can be an effective tool in policy changing.

Church planting and growth in Greece has remained largely stagnant over the last 50 years. Optimistically, it is estimated that the average church attendance is between 15-30 people. The situation became exacerbated since the economic crisis began, which weakened many local communities and forced others to close their doors. However, it is also encouraging to see a fresh push for new church planting in Greece today.

Pray for Greece Ministry

 

Opportunities for the gospel: As hard as this climate is getting, it is our prayer that God would use it to create opportunities for the gospel and to open people’s hearts to Jesus. God has been doing a incredible work among the refugee population, especially those from Iran and Afghanistan. Many of them have had visions of Christ who appeared to them personally and told them about Himself. Many others have responded to the gospel and embraced Christ as their Savior. Please pray for these open doors to increase!

The Need for Workers & Churches: In light of all that is happening we ask you to pray that God would send laborers out into His harvest field. We also ask you to pray that God would establish healthy churches where those being saved in this nation, regardless of their origins, will find a spiritual home. Finally we ask that you pray for God to strengthen the churches that are already here, give wisdom, vision and grace to the pastors and leaders, and that He would stir up the believers to reach out to the nation around them and to the foreigners being brought to their shores.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

 

Prayer for Greece

(Compiled from prayer requests by previously mentioned Christian ministries,

including Prayercast, a Ministry by OneWay)

 

Economy/Political Situation

 *Pray for economic stability and patience throughout the country and God’s peace to overcome anger.

*Pray for the political leaders of Greece: President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris.

*Pray for the financial meltdown to drive people to Jesus for lasting peace and security

*Pray for job creation and innovation in this time of crisis.

 

Spiritual Situation

*Pray for the Church to be purged of any heresy, syncretism, or division.

*Pray for the right of non-Orthodox Christian institutions to exist and work freely.

*Pray for the future of independent churches in Greece.

*Pray for breakthroughs in non-Orthodox/Orthodox relations.

*Pray for existing churches to be strengthened through this time of crises.

*Pray for local churches and workers throughout Greece.

*Pray for new leaders to arise (and for those requiring entry visas to be given such quickly – added by Pia).

*Pray for young people in Greece.

*Pray for a revival among young believers, building a strong church for many years to come.

*Pray for a clear presentation of the Gospel to reach a nation where very few have heard the Truth.

*Pray for believers to be provided for as they trust God in ministry.

*Pray for Operation Joshua; a collaborative effort led by Hellenic Ministries aiming to sow God’s Word into every home in Greece:

*Pray that God’s Word will take root throughout the land.

*Pray for lasting fruit that leads to further evangelism and discipleship.

*Pray for staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to facilitate this massive effort.

P.S. (added 18.8.16: sent following proclamation to claim, to our intercessors: Ezekiel 37:4-5 Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’5“Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.…).

ACN PRESS – INTERNATIONAL REPORT ON PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS 2013-15

Source: ACN PRESS – INTERNATIONAL REPORT ON PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS 2013-15

This report  gives sobering insight into what is happening to the Christian community in areas of worst persecution. I found it on the Voice of the Persecuted Website. It puts a much needed stop (I hope!) to the petty bickering that is happening word-wide as to the validity of providing shelter to population groups fleeing persecution, in this instance Christians. To us, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, our family.

Truth in a world of relative truths

To carry the Truth in a world of relative truths is a burden and costly. It is not our truth but His!

It is not a set of dogmas, ideas, philosophical treaties or any other thing parading as truth, but a person: Jesus Christ!

He said of Himself: “I AM (emphasis mine, although Christ identifies Himself as I AM in other parts of the Bible) the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me (John 14:6).

He also is identified as the Word in the Scriptures. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verses 1 and 14 it is written that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The world will always hate us for preaching, teaching and believing the exclusivity of Christ. It represents that narrow road to salvation spoken of in the Bible, opposite to the world’s wide highway of perdition (Matthew 7:13-14).

That hatred represents the persecution awaiting true believers, for which Christ promises his blessing (Matthew 5:10, 10:22, 32-33; Revelation 2:10b), 26).

Someone once wrote that hell, like the grave, is never satisfied. They have an insatiable appetite for souls. The ruler of this world is the one in charge of both death and hell. That explains the whole thing about the highway to perdition being wide. He rules through warfare, lies and compromise, seduction and every evil thing.

Jesus said of him that “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

As believers, let us not “hide our light under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15) but rather bravely speak the truth in love, His truth. People need to hear it. What they do with it is not up to us!

26 August 2015

Prayer for Somalia

Prayer Points:

(As listed on The World Factbook Website)

•Pray for God to defeat the plans of Al Qaeda, al Shabab and other terrorist groups operating in Somalia. Pray that the demonic forces that are using these terrorist groups will be toppled, and that the people will be set free to worship the Lord. Pray that their leaders turn to Christianity. (1 Timothy 2:1–4)

•Pray for Somalia’s government to stabilize and become vigilant against combating terrorism.

•Pray that the influence of violent groups operating in neighboring countries will not spread to Somalia. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)

•Thank God that Somaliland in the northwest has been able to stabilize the region and restore order.

•As Christians immigrate out, Christianity is projected to slide from 2% of the population in mid-1995 to 0.7% of the population in 2025. Pray that Christianity will not be snuffed out of Somalia.

•Somalis are desperate for peace. Pray that peace would come and that God would be glorified in it.

(As listed on 2015 Window International Network (WIN) Website:)

•Although the majority of the population are Muslim, the greed and fighting between Islamic groups has contributed to the civil war. Some people are turning to more radical Islamic groups but many are totally disillusioned with Islam. Pray that they would find Jesus and find a real, dynamic and consistent faith.

•Pray for the protection and safety of those delivering vital food aid and medical care.

•The Somali church has been driven totally underground; some leaders have been named on a hit list for execution. Pray that God would protect them and that they would remain strong in their faith.

Prayer moves the hand of God. Once there is sustained, strategic, and informed prayer in the 10/40 Window, we will witness massive numbers of unreached people coming to Christ. Pray that it will happen in our generation. – Beverly Pegues

My additional prayer points:

We pray for believers in Somalia to have access to empowering Christian teaching and teachers, that would help them stand strong in the faith. Most of all, we pray for the empowering of the Holy Spirit’s anointing on them; to turn them from fearful believers into bold witnesses for Christ (Acts 4:13); bold as lions, innocent as doves and wise as serpents (Prov. 28:1, Matt. 10:16), giving and bringing glory to their Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

Somalia

History

Comprised of a former British protectorate and an Italian colony, Somalia was created in 1960 when the two territories merged. Since then its development has been slow. Relations with neighbours have been soured by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

In 1970 Mr Barre proclaimed a socialist state, paving the way for close relations with the USSR. In 1977, with the help of Soviet arms, Somalia attempted to seize the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, but was defeated thanks to Soviet and Cuban backing for Ethiopia, which had turned Marxist.

In 1991 President Barre was overthrown by opposing clans. But they failed to agree on a replacement and plunged the country into lawlessness and clan warfare.

Years of anarchy followed the downfall of President Barre, and it was not until 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, that the country began to enjoy a measure of stability once more.

The decades of fighting between rival warlords meant that the country was ill-equipped to deal with natural disasters such as drought, and around half a million people died in the Somali famines of 1992 and 2010-12.

Religion:

Somalia is comprised of 99.9% Muslims and only 0.1% of the population are Christians. The country has an entirely Muslim population and in some areas Shari’a law is implemented. Church properties were nationalized and missionaries expelled in the 1970s. Existing churches are permitted by the government so long as they do not evangelize Muslims. All Muslim children, by law have to attend Islam classes in school, even if in private Christian missionary schools.

Challenges for Christians:
Somalia is ranked No. 4 among nations that are the worst persecutors of Christians based on Open Doors 2007 “World Watch List.” On May 11, 2007, Islamist Web sites attributed the kidnapping of two aid workers in Puntland to the aid workers having allegedly used the provision of assistance as a pretext for proselytizing. Similar claims were made against Ethiopians who the Islamists have stated were attempting to Christianise the country as part of their military occupation. On September 17, 2006, Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian nun, was killed at a hospital in Mogadishu by gunmen, hours after a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abukar Hassan, condemned Pope Benedict XVI for his remarks on Islam and violence. Hassan declared, “Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim.”

© 2015 Window International Network, (WIN) is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 to continue the international outreach segment of the Christian Information Network.

Islamist insurgency
…In 2006 …Islamists …gained control of much of the south, including the capital, after their militias kicked out the warlords who had ruled the roost for 15 years.

With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.

Islamist insurgents – including the Al-Shabab group, which later declared allegiance to al-Qaeda and in 2012 announced its merger with the global Islamist terrorist group – fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.

Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, Al-Shabab fighters took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government.

Al-Shabab consolidated its position as the most powerful insurgent group by driving its main rival, Hizbul Islam, out of the southern port city of Kismayo in October 2009.

But al-Shabab was wrong-footed by a series of government and African peacekeeper offensives and a Kenyan army incursion in 2011. They withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011, the port of Baidoa in February, the key town of Afgoye in May and the port of Merca in August, and lost their last urban stronghold – the major southern port of Kismayo – in October 2012, along with the major inland town of Wanla Weyn.

In a sign of growing confidence, Somalia’s first formal parliament in more than 20 years was sworn in at Mogadishu airport, marking an end to the eight-year transitional period.

Parliament chose Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an academic and civic activist with little political experience, as president in September 2012. He in turn appointed an economist and businessman, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, prime minister with a brief to stamp out nepotism and clan rivalry (emphasis mine).

BBC News, Somalia profile – Overview, 21 October 2014

The al-Qaeda affiliate (al-Shabab which launched its deadliest attack on Kenya, which left 148 people dead at Garissa University last week – italics my additions) says it is at war with Kenya, and wants it to withdraw troops sent to Somalia in 2011 to help the weak government in Mogadishu fight the militants.

Kenyan fighter jets have bombed positions of militant Islamist group al-Shabab in neighbouring Somalia, a military spokesman has told the BBC.Many people in Somalia believe the air assault is merely aimed at showing Kenyans that the government is responding to the threat posed by al-Shabab. They point out there was a similar strike after al-Shabab killed 36 quarry workers in Kenya’s north-eastern Mandera region in December. Then, too, there were reports of civilian casualties, while Kenya failed to provide any proof of al-Shabab being hit.

This is in contrast to US air strikes in Somalia, which led to the killing of al-Shabab fighters and leaders.

Islamist militant group al-Shabab is battling the UN-backed government in Somalia, and has carried out a string of attacks in neighbouring Kenya. The group …has been pushed out of most of the main towns it once controlled, but it remains a potent threat.

Who are al-Shabab?
Al-Shabab means The Youth in Arabic.

It emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu in 2006, before being forced out by Ethiopian forces.
There are numerous reports of foreign jihadists going to Somalia to help al-Shabab, from neighbouring countries, as well as the US and Europe.

It is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters.

BBC News, 3 April 2015

Foreign intervention in Somalia

1992 – UN troops arrive to monitor ceasefire after fighting which followed fall of Siad Barre. US-led task force delivers aid

1993 – UN mission is dealt a fatal blow when US rangers are killed in incident made famous by Hollywood film Black Hawk Down
1995 – UN troops withdraw, leaving warlords to fight on. UN casualties number 150
2006 – Ethiopia sends troops to defend interim government
2007 – African peacekeeping force AMISOM deploys
2011 – Kenya enters Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab militia

Piracy
The long-standing absence of authority in the country led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and prompted NATO to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation. International efforts were seen to bear fruit in 2012, when pirate attacks dropped sharply.

BBC News, Somalia profile – Overview, 21 October 2014

Somalis continue to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. As of September 2013, there were more than 1.1 million Somalis displaced internally and nearly one million refugees living in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.
The government installed in 2012 controls only a fraction of the country, and those areas remain fragile in the face of tension between competing warlords and frequent attacks from the Al Shabab terrorist group.

Current Humanitarian Situation
Increased access and stability have improved Somalia’s humanitarian situation in recent months, but only marginally. While famine conditions no longer exist, the UN estimates that there are 870,000 people in need of live-saving humanitarian assistance. Cities are coming back to life in areas where Al Shabab has given up territorial control, particularly the capital Mogadishu, where approximately 369,000 IDPs reside. However, the displaced population is not benefitting from this revival.

A complex network of local powerbrokers (including businessmen, landowners, and public officials) controls the (Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) – italics mine) displacement camps and regularly diverts incoming aid (emphasis mine).

Further, as property values rise, landowners are designating more and more land for reconstruction and development. In the process, IDP camps on that land are being cleared, and IDPs are being forced to find shelter elsewhere. The UN estimates that tens of thousands of IDPs were evicted during August and September of 2013. RI is urging the Somali government to publicly condemn forced evictions and to implement protocols to protect the rights of IDPs.
In addition to the massive IDP population, Somalia is also the second-ranking source of refugees in the world. Kenya’s Dadaab camp, designed to hold 90,000 refugees fleeing the Somali civil war in 1991, holds nearly half a million refugees more than two decades later. The Kenyan government has indicated that it wants the bulk of the refugee population to return home. However, if returns occur prematurely, there is a high likelihood that those refugees will become IDPs within Somalia, facing the same protection challenges as the IDPs who are currently living in and around Mogadishu.

In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) signed a Tripartite Agreement to establish a framework for supporting voluntary returns to Somalia. The principle of voluntariness (emphasis mine, in view of Kenya’s pressure) must be upheld, and Kenya, along with UNHCR, must continue to provide protection and support for those refugees who feel that Somalia is not yet safe enough for a return home.

Refugees International, Somalia – Overview

Hundreds of fleeing Somalis have been reported drowned or killed by smugglers. Lately, kidnapping for ransom has dramatically increased for Somali refugees.

Some Somali refugees, previously stationed in one of the many refugee camps in neighbouring countries have preferred to return to a still volatile security situation in Somalia, rather than continue to endure practices of looting and raping by security forces, supposedly there to protect them.

History, overview, trends and issues in major Somali refugee displacements in the near region, Laura Hammond, Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), February 2014.

1.5 Million out of approx.. 10 Mio Somali live outside Somalia, in the “near” and “far” diasporas, in such countries as Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, and Uganda (1.1 Mio. In the latter countries, the rest as far dispersed as Europe, U.S., U.K., North and South Africa).
UNHCR, Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, 30.9.2013

Barely 30% of the population has access to clean water and only 13% of boys and 7% of girls attend school.

From Website of International Medical Corps UK

Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and human development outcomes are now among the lowest in the world.

The pre-eminence of customary clan-based systems inhibit social cohesion and pervasive traditional practices such as polygamy, early and forced marriage, exclusion of women from education and employment opportunities, result in some of the worst gender equality indicators in the world.

With more than 70% of the population under the age of 30, Somalia is a young country with enormous development needs. Among the more urgent is food security which, together with displacement of a large share of the population, has led to a continuing humanitarian crisis that has spilled over into the wider region.
Life expectancy at birth is 51 years and infant mortality rates are estimated to be 108 deaths per 1,000 live births i.e. one in every 10 children dies in the first year (UNICEF).

The World Bank, Somalia Overview, Last Updated: Mar 09, 2015