Previously untouched 600BC palace discovered under shrine demolished by Isil in Mosul

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Archaeologists documenting Isil’s destruction of the ruins of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah say they have made an unexpected discovery which could help in our understanding of the world’s first empire.

The Nebi Yunus shrine – containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah, as he was known in the Bible, or Yunus in the Koran – was blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants soon after they seized huge swathes of northern Iraq in 2014.

The shrine is situated on top of a hill in eastern Mosul called Nebi Yunus – one of two mounds that form part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

The Iraqi army retook the area from Isil last month, revealing the extensive damage wrought by the jihadists.

But local archaeologists have told the Telegraph that Isil also dug tunnels deep under the demolished shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched 600BC palace.

Limited excavation was carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852, which was revisited by the Iraqi department of antiquities in the 1950s. But neither team reached as far as the palace.

“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here” Archaeologist Layla Salih

It is the first evidence of Isil’s use of tunneling in ancient grounds in their hunt for artefacts to plunder.

Inside one of the tunnels, Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih discovered a marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672BC.

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While the king’s name is not visible on the cuneiform slab, a historian who has seen photographs of it says phrases are legible which were used only to describe him, in particular his rebuilding of Babylon after his father Sennacherib had it destroyed.

The palace was built for Sennacherib, renovated and expanded by Esarhaddon (681-669 BC), and renovated again by Ashurbanipal (669-627). It was partly destroyed during the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC.

There are only a handful of such cuneiforms recovered from the period, most of which from the second mound just north of Nebi Yunus in Kouyunjik.

In another part of the tunnel they discovered Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, depicted sprinkling the “water of life” to protect humans in her care.

“I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size,” said Prof Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, suggesting they may have been used to decorate the women’s quarter of the palace. “The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isil’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.

“There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”

Ms Salih, a former curator of the Mosul museum who is supervising a five-man team carrying out the emergency documentation, said she believes Isil looted hundreds of objects before Iraqi forces recaptured the eastern side of the city.

“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,” she told the Telegraph by phone from Mosul. “We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period.”

She warned that the tunnels were not professionally built, however, and are at risk of collapsing “within weeks” – burying and potentially destroying the new finds.

Experts from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq – alongside other international teams – are bidding to help local archaeologists secure and document the site. Unesco is due to hold a meeting in Paris later this month to decide who will be sent.

The terror group destroyed several other key landmarks in Mosul and elsewhere because they considered the worshipping of shrines not to be in keeping with their Islamic traditions.  Isil militants believe giving special veneration to tombs and relics is against the teachings of Islam.

A report just released by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government lists some 100 sacred buildings damaged or wiped off the map during Isil’s two-year reign.

They closed all of Mosul’s museums and cultural centres during their more than two-year reign over the city. Many of the city’s archaeologists and historians went into hiding.

“Many decided to stay in the city when Isil came, fearing what they might do to their families if they fled,” said Prof Robson. “They hid their books and lied about their expertise. Thankfully, most of them survived.”

 

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Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘Christians … are Suffering a lot because of Radical Islam’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel is the only Middle East country helping Christians from the violence of radical Islam.
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Netanyahu, speaking in a video message to the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, said that Christians are being persecuted and killed by radicals in the Middle East.
“You know very well that our region is in flames and Christians in Iraq, Syria and, unfortunately, under the Palestinian Authority, are suffering a lot because of radical Islam. These communities are persecuted, and unfortunately many people have lost their lives for their faith,” Netanyahu said.
“Radical Islam does not make any difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims who reject their extremism. They are all infidels who must be killed. For this now more than ever it is clear which is the only State in the Middle East that protects minorities, where Christians live in peace and where their community is growing: This state is the State of Israel,” he said.
Netanyahu has put a blockade on the region, which restricts the flow of goods.
Meanwhile, the Christian community in Gaza has fallen at a rate of 5 percent per year.
“People might think we’re leaving because of Hamas, but no it’s because of … [Israeli] policies on Gaza,” said Jaber Jilder, an official with the Greek Orthodox Church.

Why Are There Only 53 Christians Among America’s 2,184 Syrian Refugees? Amid claims of discrimination, World Relief points to other explanations.

Since civil war erupted in 2011, half of Syria’s nearly 22 million people have been displaced—including many of its Christians.

Before the conflict, approximately 1.1 million Syrians, or 5.2 percent of the population, were Christians. The majority—at least 700,000—have now fled.

That means that roughly 18 percent of Syria’s estimated 4 million refugees are Christians. So why have only less than 3 percent of the 2,184 Syrian refugees resettled in the United States from 2011 until now been Christians?

As Christians debate state bans on Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks, American Christians are “curious, and somewhat concerned, that there appear to be no Christian refugees in sight,” wrote Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy for The Stream. She faults the Obama administration and US resettlement agencies which plan to increase the number of refugees resettled but have failed to support legislation that would fast track Christians for resettlement in America.

Christian refugees need special treatment, argues Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, because the United Nations refugee processing system “disproportionately excludes them.” According to Shea, it’s difficult for Christians to pass through the bureaucratic channels necessary to obtain refugee status, and they face dangers along the way.

No one is disputing the fact that the US has resettled 2,098 Muslims and 53 Christians from Syria since 2011, according to the latest statistics from the Refugee Processing Center.

However, the situation may not be as discriminatory as the numbers seem, said Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for World Relief. The humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), World Relief is one of nine agencies authorized to resettle refugees in the US, and has resettled more than 250,000 over the past 35 years.

A typical security check for refugees takes 18 months—but it’s often longer for Middle Eastern refugees, he said. For example, the overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees didn’t start arriving in the States until about five years after the beginning of the conflict in Iraq. So the bulk of Syrian Christian refugees are likely still waiting to be processed, he said.

“For a refugee, from the time they flee to until they’re in a permanent situation is 17 years,” said Soerens. “So five years is actually on the really short end. There are some refugees who might wait 30 years.”

And many Syrian Christians didn’t begin the resettlement process immediately after the civil war sparked in March 2011, he said. Instead, many Christians stayed longer in Syria because they felt protected by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Other Christians fled to neighboring Lebanon. Now home to more than one million refugeesmore than one-third of its population—Lebanon has taken the longest to resettle displaced people, says Soerens.

Socioeconomic status also plays a part.

“Christians tended to be better off economically than the average Muslim in Syria,” said Soerens. For the wealthier refugees, applying for a tourist visa is a quicker avenue of escape. Once they arrive as tourists, they can petition the US government for asylum.

Since the start of the war, the number of Syrian asylum petitions has steadily risen. In 2010, 36 petitions were filed. Last year, petitions totaled 1,586.

Since 2011, the US has approved just over one-third (37%) of the cases filed. Christians are likely overrepresented in these figures, said Soerens.

He rejected accusations that the US was trying to discriminate against Syrian Christians.

“I’m wary to assume a discriminatory factor here, given the reputation of the US resettlement program,” said Soerens. “It has helped more persecuted Christians than any other religious group.”

Since 2003, the US has resettled more than 762,000 refugees, and nearly 340,000 of them have been Christians, according to State Department statistics. The percentage of Christian refugees from each country varies greatly, depending on the circumstances.

For example, consider the countries that top Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of the countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. Of the nearly 9,000 Afghani refugees resettled in the US in the past 12 years, just over 1 percent are Christians. But of the almost 15,000 refugees from Eritrea, 85 percent are Christians. By comparison, about 3 percent of Somali refugees, 30 percent of Iraqi refugees, 63 percent of North Korean refugees, and 75 percent of Nigerian refugees have been Christians.

“We don’t have religious tests to our compassion,” President Barack Obama told Turkish reporters this week.

That might change, as several bills have popped up in the US House of Representatives this year, aimed both at expediting the process for religious groups threatened by ISIS and at beefing up the screening of anyone from Iraq or Syria. Some voices, including Franklin Graham, have even called for ending Muslim immigration to America.

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” said Leith Anderson, president of the NAE. “Our system is designed to keep terrorists out and to help desperate families with little children. We want to help the victims of terrorism in the Middle East, not punish them.”

Russell Moore argues in The Washington Post that it is time to “stop pitting security and compassion against each other.” The Gospel Coalition offers an explainer on the Syrian refugee crisis. CT previously spotlighted how refugees and asylum seekers are today’s pilgrims.

On Thursday, a veto-proof majority in the House voted in favor of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act. Nearly 50 Democrats joined with Republicans to approve legislation that forbids Syrian and Iraqi refugees from being resettled until the director of the FBI, the director of Homeland Security, and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant poses no threat, reportsThe New York Times.

But the bill would only duplicate security systems in place and “effectively end the program,” said World Relief’s CEO Stephan Bauman. “Refugees are already the most vetted non-citizens in our country.”

Here is World Relief’s full response to the SAFE Act passed on Thursday:

Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which would create an extra layer of certification in order for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to come to the United States as refugees in addition to additional reporting requirements.

World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, is strongly against this legislation and urges the United States to continue to welcome and protect Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

For 30 years, World Relief has partnered with local churches to resettle over 260,000 refugees to the United States and in addition since 1975, the United States has resettled more than 3 million refugees – three quarters of a million entered the U.S. in 2001 alone. During this time, there have been no recorded terrorists acts in the U.S. by a refugee. In fact, refugees are already the most vetted non-citizens in our country.

“The refugee resettlement program is a life-saving program that has helped millions of those who have fled persecution start their lives anew in a place of safety. At a time when the U.S. needs to show humanitarian leadership, it would be a mistake to effectively shut down a program that has saved millions of lives,” said Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief. “It is vital to maintain the integrity of this program by accepting the most vulnerable refugees, not excluding anyone based on their nationality or religion.”

World Relief strongly opposed H.R. 4038- The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act 2015 due to the following reasons:

H.R. 4038 creates a bureaucratic review process that could take years to implement and would effectively shut down refugee resettlement. The bill requires the approval of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Department of National Intelligence for each individual refugee. The certification process will have to be created and agreed upon by heads of each agency and could take years to establish. In the meantime, refugees would languish in camps and dangerous situations, Syrian Americans would not be able to reunite with their family members, and there would be very real ramifications for international refugee protection and U.S. foreign policy interests in the region.

The process, once established, would add months or years to the security screening process, which is already the lengthiest and most robust in the world, routinely taking between 18 and 36 months. In addition to obtaining approval from three heads of federal agencies for each refugee, the bill requires reporting to thirteen congressional committees on each refugee that is considered for resettlement. This is unreasonably burdensome and will effectively end the program. Furthermore, for reasons of security and safety, security and medical clearances are only valid for limited periods of time. During the certification process, these clearances will expire. This will mean that refugees will be caught in an un-ending loop of security clearances that will never end.

Refugees are already the most vetted non-citizens in our country. All refugees undergo thorough and rigorous security screenings prior to arriving in the United States, including but not limited to multiple biographic and identity investigations; FBI biometric checks of applicants’ fingerprints and photographs; in-depth, in-person interviews by well-trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings; investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center; and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies. Supervisory review of all decisions; random case assignment; inter-agency national security teams; trained document experts; forensic testing of documents; and interpreter monitoring are in place to maintain the security of the refugee resettlement program. Due to technological advances, Syrian refugees are also undergoing iris scans to confirm their identity through the process.

The bill is a waste of resources. Funds used to establish and run this certification process would be better used in conducting actual security reviews of refugees and others who are vetted by these agencies.

The bill is a pretext and requires differential treatment of refugees from Syria and Iraq without providing a justification for the additional verification. It is a disguised attempt to stop refugees from two countries long beset by internal conflict, including refugees who have been in neither Syria nor Iraq for four years. Differential treatment, with no clear justification, amounts to discrimination on the basis of nationality without rational basis.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t carefully vet refugees, but let’s get the facts first before making generalizations and shutting down a program that has literally saved thousands of lives.To turn our backs on refugees now would betray our nation’s core values to provide refuge for the persecuted and affirm the very message those who perpetrate terrorism would seek to send.

Now is the time to act. www.wewelcomerefugees.com

Stephan Bauman

President/CEO – World Relief

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U.S. and U.K. Governments Discriminate against Christian Refugees

By: Amanda Casanova | Religion Today Contributing Writer
Recently released statistics show that Christian refugees are being “unintentionally discriminated against” by the U.S. government’s refugee program.
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According to Christian Today, the statistics show that only 2 percent of Syrian refugees allowed in the US since 2011 are Christian. More than 96 percent are Muslim, the US state department statistics show.
The nation’s refugee program relies on the United Nations refugee camps to decide who to accept into the United States, but Syrian and Iraqi Christian supporters say that Christians fleeing the violence avoid the camps because they feel they could be targeted there.
“Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them,” said Lord Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury. “They are seeking refuge in private homes, church buildings and with neighbors and family.”
Since the fighting started in Syria in 2011, more than 2,200 Muslims have been accepted into the U.S. Only 53 Christians from Syria were accepted.
The U.S. refugee program is under fire after the attacks in Paris, in which it is speculated that the attackers may have entered Europe disguised as refugees.
In response, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has asked that there be a focus on admitting Christian refugees.
President Obama, however, said discriminating against Muslims is “not American.”

Open Doors World Watch List 2015

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The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the World Watch List of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. The World Watch List lists the 50 countries where faith costs the most. The list is based on detailed information from Open Doors co-workers in over 65 countries, as well as independant experts. Worldwide, the List reports an overall increase in the persecution of Christians in 2014. 

The Open Doors’ WWL 2015 tracks a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in a large number of African states. Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria make their appearance in the Top 10. Kenya and Djibouti have marked the steepest climb on the list, and Tanzania and Eritrea also scored significantly higher compared to 2014.

While Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution, the Middle East saw targeted attacks, resulting in a mass exodus of Christians. In forty countries of the Top 50, Islamic extremism was a major source of persecution. It would be fair to say that the WWL 2015 again shows that the persecution of Christians seems to become more intense in more countries of the world. Approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution can take many forms, Christians throughout the world risk imprisonment, torture, rape and even death as result of their faith.

World Watch List 2015 – Top 10 Countries – Including Summaries