Al Qaeda in Syria – which after evolving into Al Nusra, is now called Hayaat Tahrir Al Sham  – continues to seize the houses, land and property of Christians in the province of Idlib under its control, Asia News reports. In a statement issued by Tahrir Al Sham and published four days ago, we read:
“All the Christian goods are considered spoils of war and consequently they will be seized”. Three days ago, the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate confirmed to AsiaNews that the Islamic terrorist groups of Idlib are confiscating the assets of the Christians who fled during the war after the occupation by Daesh.
An inhabitant of Gisr el Sheghur – who wanted to remain anonymous – is among those who have occupied an abandoned house. He himself declares that La Hayaat “has informed all the inhabitants who have occupied houses belonging to Christians who have fled, to leave or to agree to pay a monthly rent” to the Islamic terrorist organization.
There is also the expropriation of the homes of Christians left to their friends or neighbors. Al Hasyat does not recognize these legal powers of attorney. The most beautiful houses are assigned to Islamic leaders; other houses or shops are sold or rented. The seizures do not concern Christians still in the city, which are very few and composed mainly of old people.
Christians in the province of Idlib, composed mainly of Armenians and Greek Orthodox, had to flee in 2012. Known to be wealthy and owners of land and houses, the Christians abandoned everything, fleeing to areas controlled by the government. Many others have opted to emigrate abroad: some only temporarily to Turkey, Lebanon or Armenia; others have chosen never to return and have gone to Europe, America, Australia.
The Christians of the province were concentrated mainly in the city of Idlib, but also in the surrounding villages of the agricultural and industrial hinterland, as well as in the new urban centers of Gisr el Sheghur, Halluz, Yaacobibya and Al Ghassaniya. At the beginning of 2012, many Christians suffered ferocious persecution by Daesh. Many of them were beheaded, under the guise of being “the Damascus regime” supporters.
Since the Islamic armed groups of the Syrian Revolution have taken control, direct persecution and acts of terrorism towards Christians have increased. The faithful are urged to abjure or be condemned to death in case of refusal. Another way out is escape. Above all, Daesh and Al Nusra have abducted many priests and nuns and have demolished churches and monasteries and turned them into graveyards for mass graves. Among the many testimonies, there is that of the Greek Orthodox church of Al Ghassaniya (December 2013).
In 2015, in the city of Idlib, the church dedicated to Our Lady was ransacked and defiled by Gind El Aqsa, “The Soldiers of Al Aqsa”. Together with the allied fundamentalist factions, Hayaat Tahrir Al Sham controls almost 70% of the territories of the province of Idlib. It is made up of thousands of Syrian fighters, but also Arab and non-Arab jihadists. The remaining 30% of the territory is controlled by less fundamentalist groups, but always opposed to Christians.
This part is in fact controlled by groups left by Al Qaeda and Isis, such as the “Islamic Turkic Party”, nostalgic for the Turkish Ottoman Empire; “Sekur Al Ghab” (Forest Falcons); Ansar Al Tawhid (Apostles of Unity); Haras Al Din (Guardians of Religion); Ajdad Al Caucaz (The Grandparents of the Caucasus), composed of Chechens and Turkish Azerbaijani; Jeysh Al Izza (The Army of Glory) and many others. Only a small group belongs to the free Syrian Army.
Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access
Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.
The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.
In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.
Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.
The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.
HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.
“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”
The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.
There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”
Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”
The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.
Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”
Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party
Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.
Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”
A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.
The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.