Report: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes Against Iran Near Golan Heights

Israel reportedly carried out an airstrike in southern Syria near the Golan Heights on Thursday, Syrian state television reported.

The report on state-owned Ikhbariyah said the attack targeted Tel al-Hara, where a Russian outpost was stationed, though has since been taken over by Iranian-backed militias, Reuters quoted Western intelligence sources as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a memorial ceremony for Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a revisionist Zionist leader, suggested that Israel was behind the strike.

“We’re defending ourselves at all times,” Netanyahu said.

Syrian State News SANA claimed that Israel attacked and caused only damages to military materiel and equipment.

According to foreign media reports, Israel has carried out numerous attacks in Syrian in recent years targeting Iran and Hezbollah.

On Tuesday, Israel reportedly expanded its operations against Iran, by hitting its forces in Iraq, according to Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper based in London.

Ancient Church of the Apostles Uncovered Near Sea of Galilee

The Church of the Apostles, which is said to have been built over the house of Jesus’ disciples Peter and Andrew, has been unearthed by a team of Israeli and American archeologists along the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

For the past four years, the international team of experts has been uncovering the ancient Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida eventually turned into the Roman village of Julias

The story of this ancient find started in 725 with a Christian pilgrim named Saint Willibald, the 8th-century bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. During his travels in the Sea of Galilee, he set sail from Capernaum to Kursi. On the way, he stopped in Bethsaida and saw the Church of Peter and Andrew. This church was built over the homes of the houses of Jesus’ disciples – Peter and Andrew.

In an exclusive interview with Breaking Israel News, Dr. Moti Aviam, Professor of archaeology at the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology at Kinneret College said: “There is no other church that is known between Capernaum and Kursi. We also assume that the site we are digging in El Araj is a more likely candidate to be the location of Bethsaida than is the Jordan Park which is a few kilometers away”.

US, Russia rip up 32-year-old arms control treaty

US, Russia rip up 32-year-old arms control treaty

The United States plans to test a new missile in coming weeks that would have been prohibited under a landmark, 32-year-old arms control treaty that the US and Russia ripped up on Friday.

Washington and Moscow walked out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty that President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987, raising fears of a new arms race. The US blamed Moscow for the death of the treaty. It said that for years Moscow has been developing and fielding weapons that violate the treaty and threaten the United States and its allies, particularly in Europe.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement released on Friday.

But the US also sees an upside to exiting the treaty. Washington has complained for years that the arms control playing field was unfair. US officials argued that not only was Russia violating the treaty and developing prohibited weapons, but that China also was making similar non-compliant weapons, leaving the US alone in complying with the aging arms control pact.

Now, the US is free to develop weapons systems that were previously banned. The US is planning a test flight of such a weapon in coming weeks, according to a senior administration official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the weapons development and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The current Pentagon budget includes $48 million for research on potential military responses to the Russian violations of the INF treaty, but the options do not include a nuclear missile.

The official downplayed the test and said it was not meant as a provocation against Russia. Because the United States adhered to the treaty for 32 years, the United States is “years away” from effectively deploying weapons previously banned under the agreement, the official said Thursday.

Arms control advocates still worry that America’s exit from the INF treaty will lead the two nations to also scrap the larger New START treaty, which expires in early 2021.

“Pulling out of this treaty leaves New START as the only bilateral nuclear arms agreement between the US and Russia,” said physicist David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. If US President Donald “Trump pulls out of that treaty as well or allows it to lapse, it will be the first time since 1972 that the two countries will be operating without any mutual constraints on their nuclear forces.”

Former US President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 | Photo: AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File

Trump hasn’t committed to extending or replacing New START, which beginning in 2018 imposed limits on the number of US and Russian long-range nuclear warheadsand launchers. Trump has called New START “just another bad deal” made by the Obama administration, and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in June that it’s unlikely the administration will agree to extend the treaty for five years, which could be done without legislative action in either capital.

The Trump administration thinks talks about extending New START are premature. The administration claims that with China’s growing arsenal of nuclear warheads, Beijing can no longer be excluded from nuclear arms control agreements. Trump has expressed a desire to negotiate a trilateral arms control deal signed by the US, Russia and China.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I will say Russia would like to do something on a nuclear treaty and that’s OK with me. They’d like to do something and so would I.”

The administration official said the US has had regular discussions with the Russians and Chinese about the possibility of a three-way arms control agreement. Trump wants the agreement to address not just intermediate-range weapons, but “all nuclear weapons,” the official said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov urged the United States to observe a moratorium in using intermediate-range weapons.

“We invited the US and other NATO countries to assess the possibility of declaring the same moratorium on deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range equipment as we have, the same moratorium Vladimir Putin declared, saying that Russia will refrain from deploying these systems when we acquire them unless the American equipment is deployed in certain regions,” he said in an interview with state news agency Tass.

European leaders are expected to react to Friday’s demise of the INF with disappointment and concern.

“With the end of the INF treaty, a bit of security in Europe is being lost,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this week. “Now we call all the more on Russia and the US to preserve the New START treaty as a cornerstone of worldwide arms control.

“Nuclear powers such as China must also face up to their responsibility on arms control – they have more weight in the world than at the time of the Cold War.”

Over its lifetime, the 1987 INF treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 US and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. Until its demise, the treaty banned land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).

Pompeo said the US first raised its concerns that Russia was violating the treaty in 2013 during the Obama administration. He said the US tried for six years to prod Russia back into compliance.

In February, Trump determined that Moscow was in material breach of the treaty and the US suspended its own obligations under the agreement. That started a six-month clock to get Russia back into compliance – time that ran out on Friday.

“As it has for many years, Russia chose to keep its non-compliant missile rather than going back into compliance with its treaty obligations,” Pompeo said. “The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia.”

China Adds Charge against Pastor, Coerces Christians to Accuse Him Falsely, Sources Say

Early Rain Covenant Church members in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. (China Aid)

(Morning Star News) – Authorities in China have added “illegal business activities” to the subversion charge against pastor Wang Yi and have coerced congregation members to falsely accuse him, according to advocacy and media reports.

Pastor Wang, of Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, was detained in a Dec. 9 raid along with more than 100 congregation members and, as leader of an unregistered church, was charged with “inciting subversion of the state.” His arrest was formalized on Dec. 14. He remains incarcerated along with four other church leaders.

Chinese Christians were baffled at the “illegal business activities” charge, with an elder at a Beijing house church telling Radio Free Asia that it makes no sense, as the church doesn’t sell Bibles or anything else.

Authorities have forbidden Pastor Wang’s attorney to confer with him.

Other ERCC members have been released but regularly arrested and interrogated for brief periods since the Dec. 9, 2018 round-up. Some of them report being forced to take unidentified substances and make false accusations against church leaders, advocacy group China Aid reported.

Those who refused to make false accusations against Pastor Wang and church elders were shackled on their hands and feet for more than 10 days to prevent sleep, a released church member told China Aid.

Pastor Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, also accused of “inciting subversion of state power,” was released on bail after six months under “residential surveillance,” a common term used by officials to denote being held away from home in a location that is not an official prison, according to China Aid.

Chinese authorities in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province also secretly held a Christian affiliated with ERCC in a basement for months, according to China Aid. Gou Zhongcan was held in the basement of a Public Security Bureau office after refusing to reveal passwords to his computer and cell phone, the group said.

The statutory investigation period for Pastor Wang’s case has ended, his attorney, Zhang Peihong, said in a Facebook post, according to Radio Free Asia.

Some church members detained in Dec. 9-10 raids and later released said police beat them, with one describing being tied to a chair and deprived of water and food for 24 hours, the news site reported. Many church members remain under surveillance.

The subversion charge against Pastor Wang calls for a sentence of up to five years, or 15 years in extreme cases. China Aid reports that Chinese Christians are often charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” as the Chinese Communist Party views religion as a threat to its ideological control and rule, though China’s Christians practice their faith peacefully and have no intention to threaten government power.

The government accelerated a crack-down on churches and other Christian institutions under amendments to Religious Affairs Regulations last year. After Pastor Wang’s arrest, church members released an open letter he wrote in September 2018 in which he said he would use non-violent methods to stand in faith and oppose laws that contradicted the Bible and God. The pastor had given instructions that the letter be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.

He was a human rights activist and a constitutional scholar before becoming a pastor.

The U.S. State Department on Dec. 10 included China among 10 countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern for severe religious rights violations.

Pastor’s Suicide

Revelations about the latest persecution against the Early Rain church came following reports that a pastor at a state-sanctioned church in Shangqiu, Henan Province took his life over the Chinese Community Party’s crack-down on religious groups.

The Rev. Song Yongsheng wrote in a note before he jumped from a building on July 17 that he hoped his “martyrdom” would highlight the Chinese government’s abuses, according to Asia News. China Aid noted that Song was the chairman of Shangqiu’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the president of the city’s China Christian Council (CCC), two organizations that serve as China’s only official Christian institutions. It is illegal to practice Christianity in churches outside the TSPM network.

As leader of Shangqiu’s TSPM and of CCC, Pastor Song was the leader of the official Protestant church in the city.

“I wanted to work with the government, but it was a failure. I want to be the first martyr of this terrible situation,” Pastor Song wrote, according to Asia News.

His letter denounced control of religion by the government and the Communist Party, and he described himself as “exhausted” by the pressures of the heavy-handed measures.

His wife sent messages saying he fasted four days prior to taking his life, Asia News reported. Only two church representatives were reportedly permitted at the cremation of his body on Friday (July 19), with officials forbidding public funeral services.

China ranked 27th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Reporting Persecution to Police a Vanishing Option for Christians in India

Pastor Shelton Viswanathan was attacked in Sheohar District, Bihar state, India. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – Persecution of Christians in Bihar state, India, has so intensified in the past two years that Pastor Shelton Viswanathan didn’t dare call police after Hindu extremists broke bones in his hand and foot.

“If I force the police to register cases against the assailants, the [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal’s top leaders will not spare me,” Pastor Viswanathan told Morning Star News. “The police officials asked me to be wary as the Hindu militant activists roam freely with guns, and through their videos, I can be easily identified by other RSS [Hindu extremist umbrella group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]-affiliated groups also.”

Violence against Christians in Bihar state, in India’s northeast bordering Nepal and Bangladesh, has increased in the past two years, sources said. Hopes for forming a Christian response center with help from legal aid and relief organizations has yet to be realized, Devesh Lal of the Bihar Pastors Fellowship told Morning Star News.

“The Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] extremists are walking into churches and are disrupting prayer services – on a weekly basis, we hear of threats and attacks on home churches and pastors,” Lal said. “Christian persecution is widely spread across Bihar, and it appears to be a much planned, systematic opposition created to target activities.”

Like Pastor Viswanathan, many of those attacked choose not to call police, as officers are often complicit in Hindu extremist aggression, he said.

“We also see police supporting the perpetrators instead of taking action against them, and the victims do not come forward fearing this bias,” Lal said.

The saffron-clad Hindu extremists who attacked Pastor Viswanathan on June 23 were trailing him on motorcycles on Patna-Sitamarhi Road in Sheohar District when they pushed him off of his scooter, he said. The 46-year-old pastor was distributing gospel tracts in Sheohar District unaware that the members of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), were stalking him.

“I slowed down my scooter, moved it to the other end of the road and pulled away, but they pushed me with such great force that I fell on the road,” he said. “They were eight men on four motorcycles. One of them clasped me from behind my neck and started beating me.”

Pastor Viswanathan on June 28 received treatment for his injuries at an area health center, where doctors advised bed rest.

“The doctors said that my hand and foot have been fractured,” Pastor Viswanathan told Morning Star News. “I’m trying to limp about, but there is a pain in my injured knee, and I can’t stand straight without support.”

The assailants shot video of him on their phones and warned him not to enter villages in Sheohar District, he said.

“They also placed a Bajrang Dal sticker on my scooter,” he said. “As the passersby gathered to lift me, they ran away on their bikes.”

Originally from the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, Pastor Viswanathan said he moved to Bihar in 2003 in obedience to a call from God to serve in Sheohar District. He pastors a congregation of 18 people at a house church.

“After the attack, some of my Christian friends went to Sheohar police station to inform them about the attack,” he said. “But the police said their hands are tied and that they cannot take any action.”

Goddess Follower Bullying

In Beheri Basti village of Jamui District, Christians bullied by devotees of the Hindu goddess Kali are also afraid to report abuse to police, sources said.

The Kali devotees, who have gone door-to-door demanding donations for a Kali puja (worship ritual), are trained by powerful leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), area Christian Anand Kumar Das told Morning Star News.

“No Christian comes forward to lodge a police complaint against them,” he said. “The police have been biased, but if we unite in huge numbers and approach the higher authorities, they can’t ignore us.”

A mob of well-built Kali followers burst into the house of Das’s neighbor during the daylight hours of June 9, beat the married couple there, robbed them and fled, he said. The couple has since ceased any public display of their faith, Das added.

The mob of Kali followers, known as Kali Dal, also demanded 5,000 rupees (US$73) from Das’s family, he said. His family has long suffered at their hands. As a child growing up in a Christian family, Das saw the Kali Dal compel shops to stop selling goods to them. Living as outcasts in their village, his father opened a general store in Jamui town to make ends meet, he said.

“We work very hard in town, as our agriculture fields have been snatched away from us,” the 26-year-old Das said. “They warned us not to conduct Christian prayers in the village, and that our water supply would stop if we are found assembling as a church in Beheri Basti.”

The persecution has been relentless.

“There is no peace here,” he said. “By God’s grace and supply of means, we solve a problem, and no sooner another problem comes up. I don’t even remember the last time I sat in an auto-rickshaw in my village, as we have been banned from using autos and public transport for commute.”

Sandeep Tigga Oraon, coordinator of Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Jharkhand Legal Aid Center, visited Jamui on June 27 and July 17. Christians in Bihar are facing severe discrimination because of their faith, he said.

“They have been stopped from receiving government supplies also,” Oraon told Morning Star News. “In Jamui, police framed Christian Dinesh Das and his wife in a false case after beating them up and forcefully ‘reconverting’ them to Hinduism. After learning about the attack on Das and his wife, a few families gave in and donated cash to the Kali Dal activists.”

Another area Christian, Antu Das, told Oraon that hard-line Hindu villagers ridiculed him and called him a Muslim, insinuating a threat of bodily injury in a country with a history of Hindu/Muslim violence.

“I helped him draft a complaint to hand to the police,” Oraon said. “They are scared that they could be under attack at any time. I have been persuading them to take a legal course of action, but their fears and concerns also should be taken into consideration.”

In general, there are three main ways of excluding religious minorities in India: social hostility, laws curbing religious freedom and caste discrimination, according to Andreas Thonhauser, director of external relations at ADF International. In a report published in 2018, the U.S. based Pew research center gave India the highest score for “social hostility” towards religious minorities, including Christians, Thonhauser wrote in a recent issue of the Catholic Herald.

“This intolerance appears to be growing,” he wrote. “In the first quarter of 2019, there were more than 80 reported cases of mob violence against Christians. This means one violent attack almost every day, targeting priests, pastors, families, and whole church communities.”

In Bihar state’s Bharatpur area of Jamui District, Kali devotees stormed into a house church the first week of June and demanded 1,500 rupees [US$22] from Christian resident Sangeeta Devi, Devi said.

“I told them that I cannot offer any money, and they started threatening that they will not allow us to use the toilets,” Devi told Morning Star News.

She and her husband went into debt to build the home used for the house church, she said. Working as a cleaner in a hospital in Pune, Maharashtra state, her husband earns 12,000 rupees (US$175) a month, from which they pay 8,000 rupees for the bank loan, she said. They have three children.

“Even if they kill me, it is fine, but I cannot offer a single rupee for their puja,” Devi said. “Even if our family has to starve, it is fine, we will die serving the Lord.”

Forced Hindu Worship

In Bihar state’s Maheshpur village in Bhagalpur District, Christians have faced shunning, forced Hindu worship and cutting of water and electric services.

“The village council summons one family at a time to a public meeting where they force us to drink the water and food offered to the goddess,” Krishna Kumar Suman told Morning Star News. “If we resist, they would beat us up. They don’t care if it’s a woman or minor or child.”

Christians have been ostracized there since April 2018.

“The villagers have been warned from socializing with us, and if they ever speak to us, the village council would impose a penalty,” Suman said. “It is very difficult to survive there. They stopped the supply of water and electricity to our agriculture fields and have made life terrible for us. My elderly parents, who were highly respected once, endure humiliation daily for not giving up our faith.”

Four Kali devotees have blocked the paths to Christian houses by putting up walls and fences.

“Youth members of the families have moved to different cities for work,” Suman said. “Now they are troubling our elderly parents and women by digging holes in front of our homes. These holes would cause water clogging in rain, making it difficult for senior citizens to walk on a path full of puddles.”

Christians make up just 0.12 per cent of Bihar’s 99.9 million total population, according to the 2011 census.

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the BJP came to power in 2014.