Today begins the month-long Islamic holiday of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast and abstain from eating, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and having sex from sunup to sundown. In reality, it is a time of gorging for many Muslims, as most (especially in the heat of summer) begin lining up for lavish Iftar feasts, the fast-breaking meal, starting at sundown each day-and often continuing into the wee hours of the morning.
Remember to pray for Christians living in majority Muslim countries during this season. Many will join the fasting cycle-some out of fear and some out of a desire to come alongside in witness to Muslims-while others will choose to stand apart from it as a way to signify the freedom found only in Christ. Open Doors offers a helpful prayer guide for Christians to pray for their fellow believers living among Muslims during this time.
Heavy fighting centered on Syria's capital of Damascus continues, as forces under President Bashar al-Assad appear gradually weakening, even as they push back rebels from the city. This map of Syria, which is slightly larger than North Dakota, helps to better understand the current areas of conflict. As Syrian forces hold onto the center of the country, rebel forces have seized some key towns along the borders with Turkey and Iraq-and a refugee crisis is brewing.
Syria's military leadership has been significantly weakened by the Wednesday bombing of defense headquarters that killed Syrian defense minister Dawoud Rajha, a former general and the highest-ranking Christian official in the country. Two of his deputies died in the blast, and a fourth, national security chief Hisham Ikhtiar, died of his injuries today.
Russia's ambassador to France says that Assad is ready to step down, but "in a civilized way." On Thursday, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for an end to Syrian forces' use of heavy weaponry and would have further tightened sanctions. Ahead of the UN vote, the German UN delegation gave a helpful summary of the crisis, pointing out that "Damascus is at war with the Syrian people."
Where is the Obama administration in this Middle East crisis? "Nowhere to be seen," notes The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin: "The lack of involvement by the United States will make relations with whatever regime follows Bashar al-Assad that much more difficult." As evidence, here's the latest pronouncement from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control." Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
In identifying the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers in Bulgaria, the United States is coming alongside Israel-confirming that the attacker was a member of a Hezbollah cell. Officials say the Wednesday attack was in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Christians in Gaza this week have staged rare public protests over forced conversions, claiming two Christians were being held against their will and told to convert to Islam. Christians at one time were the majority in the tiny Gaza Strip but now number just over 1,000 out of 1.7 million Palestinians living there.
Controversy over security and manpower in London for the Olympics, which open next week, flared as reports circulated that British officials pegged the terrorist threat at "severe," which means an attack is "highly likely." Olympic officials said they are planning security for the Games as if the threats were severe, but the threat for Britain as a whole remains "substantial"-meaning that an attack is a "strong possibility."
Outside the Olympic Village are a host of cultural events in London tied to the Games.
With some of the world aflame, apologies for Wednesday's missed Globe Trot, due to technical difficulties.