What's the story?
At least 70 people have died after a suspected chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel stronghold in the north-west of Syria. In response, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Syrian base from which the attack was believed to have originated.
The use of chemical weapons in any conflict is explicitly banned under international law. Yet eye-witnesses report that a state-led bomb attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was consistent with the use of poisonous gas weapons. The assault left at least 70 people dead, with an estimated 400 others suffering injuries and respiratory problems.
One eye-witness told the BBC that she saw an aircraft drop a single bomb on to a one-storey building, which sent a yellow mushroom cloud into the air that stung her eyes. “It was like a winter fog” she said, and added that when people arrived to help the wounded, “they inhaled gas and died.” The World Health Organisation has said that the lack of external injuries manifested by the victims strongly suggests the use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian government insisted in a statement that “it has never used [chemical weapons], anytime, anywhere and will not do so in the future.” And Russia, which has increasingly-worrying links to the Syrian regime, suggested that the atrocity was the result of a military attack on a rebel Sarin stockpile – an idea decried as fanciful by munitions experts.
US President Donald Trump said the attack “crossed a red line”, and that the US would intervene individually if the International community failed to deal with Syria. The first step of this was a 59-missile assault on the Syrian military base from which the chemical attack was allegedly launched – an act which immediately ratcheted up international tension, where two nuclear superpowers are found on opposite sides.
Trump stopped short of criticizing Russia’s involvement with the regime however, despite the American envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, accusing the country of using a “false narrative to deflect attention from their ally in Damascus.” For the UN and for America, the coming weeks will involve a delicate balancing act of diplomacy, which hopefully won’t result in even greater tension... and bloodshed.
What have others been saying?
Middle East-based news service Al Jazeera produced a comprehensive and impartial report on the atrocity on Tuesday 4th April.
A Guardian editorial claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ‘knows he acts with impunity’ and warns that chemical weapon use is in danger of being normalised again.
Barney Henderson in The Telegraph writes that if Donald Trump is serious about ‘red lines’, he needs to start attributing blame towards Russia.
#1 – STAYING ON THE SIDE OF GOOD
As Christians, our job is to ‘hate what is evil, cling to what is good’ (Romans 12 v 9), but sometimes that’s not always a straightforward piece of discernment. For that reason, we should always be seeking God for his perspective on situations of global importance. Earlier on in that passage in Romans 12, Paul writes that we should “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” Then, writes Paul “you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God” (v2). As we engage with events in the news, this should be our starting point as we attempt to stay on the right side of the line.
#2 – PEACE
Jesus was a peace-bringer who encouraged his followers to be peace-makers (Matthew 5 v 9), and Christians should not lose that imperative even when peaceful solutions seem impossible. We are encouraged to pray for the peace of our cities, and especially Jerusalem (Psalm 122 v 6), to live at peace with others as far as is humanly possible (Romans 12 v 18, Hebrews 12 v 14), and pursue the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5 v 22), one of which is peace. While the world seems further from this concept than ever, Christians must not lose hope in, or cease to model peace; there can perhaps be no more prophetic act in 2017.
Points for prayer
- Pray for those directly affected by the chemical attack in Syria – for those injured and those mourning loved ones – that they would be comforted.
- Pray for world leaders as they work out how to respond to the atrocity, and particularly for President Trump as he faces his first major international test.
- Pray for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing civil conflict in Syria that has resulted in so many casualties and left so many people displaced.
- Pray for global peace, and particularly for relations between the US and Russia, two heavily-armed nuclear super-powers.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.