THE Paris attacks formed a European link in a chain of Islamic State (IS) atrocities committed in the Middle East over recent days. The destruction of a Russian airliner that had taken off from Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt was followed by two suicide bombings in a predominantly Shia-Muslim district of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. All 224 people on board the Russian plane were killed, and 44 deaths were caused by the Beirut bombings.
Aside from these latest acts of violence, IS continues to consolidate its presence in the northern Sinai region of Egypt, and in Libya and Yemen, with isolated attacks carried out in its name in Saudi Arabia.
The coming weeks will show whether or not the international community, with a blend of diplomatic solidarity and the astute use of military force, can check further IS expansion and reduce the chances of the kind of attacks witnessed in Paris being carried out in other world capitals.
The motivation for the airliner bombing and the Paris attacks, IS has said, was revenge for Russian and French air strikes on its positions in Syria. Both Russia and France responded immediately to the killings of its citizens by intensifying the targeting of IS assets, in particular in Raqqa, the city where its operations are based. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that it was his country’s right under UN charters to defend itself.
US raids on IS are also growing in intensity, Russia and Western powers are acting in a common cause — but without, as yet, the degree of co-ordination that would be needed for an international campaign against the jihadists. There are, however, hopeful signs. A meeting in Turkey at the weekend of the G20 group of leading countries ended with a joint commitment to defeat terrorism. Progress was made in the latest talks, in Vienna, hosted by the United States and Russia, to seek an end to the conflict in Syria.
The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that the talks had been constructive, and that “there is now momentum behind a process working towards peace for the people of Syria.”
All states concerned with the fate of Syria now agree that an end to the violence there is an essential element in the campaign to defeat IS. To this end, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have been persuaded to drop their objections to allowing the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, to remain in power for an 18-month transition period. After this, there would be changes to the Syrian constitution, followed by elections — although there are still differences over this issue: Russia insists that Mr Assad should have the right to stand as a candidate for the presidency, whereas Turkey and others reject this notion.
It is too early to speak of optimism, but there are signs that regional powers are taking steps to prepare for a possible change in circumstances. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have increased the supply of weapons to Syrian opposition groups to enable them to gain as much ground as possible before any ceasefire.
Saudi Arabia is also preparing to host a meeting in mid-December of Syrians opposed to the Assad regime. The end is not yet in sight, but tentative movement in that direction has begun.
THE ARCHBISHOP of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, read the 23rd Psalm in French at a service in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, after the Paris terrorist attack last Friday, writes Muriel Porter, Australia Correspondent. The congregation was invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer in both French and English.
The service was attended by the Governor of New South Wales, General David Hurley; the State Premier, Mike Baird; and the French ambassador to Australia, Christophe Lecourtier, who read from Revelation. The service concluded with the singing of the French national anthem.
In Melbourne, prayers for France were offered every half-hour in St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday, and at all Sunday services. The Australian Primate, Dr Philip Freier, expressed sympathy and solidarity for the people of France on behalf of all Australian Anglicans.