Syria peace talks begin with fighting words

Syria peace talksPRAYER ALERT:As the Syria peace talks proceed in Montreux, Switzerland, Syria desperately needs a resolution to its escalating civil war. In three years it has killed more than 130,000—an average of about 125 a day. Out of Syria’s population of 23 million, 9 million depend on UN aid to survive because of the war. More than 8 million are refugees, either within Syria or in five neighboring Muslim countries. The war threatens to spill outside the borders with the exodus of Syrians and affect many more millions.

One major rebel group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fully intends to turn Syria’s civil war into a regional war. The Islamic State, an al Qaeda affiliate, aims to establish a Sunni caliphate over the region with shariah law. It moved into Syria in the spring of 2013 and quickly gained a reputation as the most ruthless opposition faction. It uses kidnappings, torture and beheadings against its critics. The Islamic State has mounted attacks against other Sunni rebel groups, including the more moderate Western-backed Free Syrian Army, and the ultra-conservative Islamic Front—which has its own plans for an Islamic state in Syria. On Jan. 23 top al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri called on all rebel groups to stop infighting and join together in overthrowing Syria’s regime.

Syria peace talks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (photo: Bashar_al-Assad.jpg)

Of the three main rebel groups, only the divided and weakening Free Syrian Army is represented—by the Syrian National Coalition—at the Syria peace talks. The SNC began its segment of the conference with fighting words, stating that any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad staying in power would effectively end the talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry also insisted that there is “no way possible” that Assad could continue to govern. The Syrian government’s representatives maintained that Assad must stay in power and denounced the rebel groups as foreign-based and foreign-financed. Assad’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, so far exceeded his speaking limit that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moun repeatedly called on him to step down. Al-Moallem ignored his pleas, saying, “You live in New York. I live in Syria.” He declared that the solution to Syria’s conflict must be Syrian.

So the first day of the Syria peace talks was mostly argument and little search for agreement. Why then did the participants talk at all? To make their stubbornness known to the the world? Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has appealed to both sides to shift their focus from Assad to finding common ground for the peace process. But even if they manage to striked strike a deal, the two most powerful rebel groups have said they will refuse to abide by it. Assad’s main backer, Iran, is not even attending the conference, despite Ban Ki-Moun’s strenuous efforts to include it. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said of the peace talks, “I don’t think they will succeed in establishing peace and stability, because the countries that created the instability are taking part.” Yet he later voiced support of “free and fair elections” in Syria.

One of the countries backing the rebel groups, Qatar, recently commissioned a report on Syrian government abuses. Published on Jan. 22, the report accuses the Syrian government of the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees between March 2100 and August 2013. It presents as evidence 55,000 digital images smuggled out by an alleged military police defector. But it could not be independently confirmed. The Syrian Justice Ministry said that the pictures show not detainees but foreigners and militants killed during battles, and others killed by rebel groups. The al Qaeda-allied rebel groups have been charged with mass killings of their own detainees. In such a polarized war zone, the truth can be hard to find.

What neither side can deny is the massive cost in human lives, and a refugee crisis which the UN calls the worst in a generation. It exceeds even the one unleashed by Rwanda’s genocide. Islamic groups increasingly target Christians, pushing Syria from #11 to #3 on World Watch’s list of persecuting nations in one year. At this point the crisis is too great for the Syria peace talks to resolve, but not too great for God.

PRAY WITH US: Father God, You rule from the highest heavens. But You have given the earth into the hands of men. And just as the first two brothers were in conflict, so are Syrians in conflict now, over who will control the nation and the region. Those at war have the same false god of conquest and tyranny. Those who are peace-loving, including many of Your people, are being terrorized, persecuted and scattered. They are hard-pressed to find food and shelter.

Help them find You, Father. Do miracles on their behalf. Show that Your power for those who believe is greater than any military power. Show that Your provision is more faithful than any government’s provision. Show that You are a compassionate God who keeps Your covenant of love, unlike the false god Allah. Bring many more into Your kingdom. Raise up peacemakers with Your counsel for Your way out of war and into right relationships among nations. Thank You for the chemical weapons disarmament in Syria that has taken place so far.Use this conflict to bring down Islam and lift up liberty and justice. Show that Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Tags for Syria peace talks: Syria, Montreux, UN aid, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al Qaeda, Syria peace talks, Free Syrian Army, Shariah, Islamic Front, Syrian National Coalition, John Kerry, Assad, Ban Ki-Moun, Iran, Qatar, Hassan Rouhani, persecution of Christians, World Watch, Open Doors

Top rebel groups boycott Syria peace talks

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