"Cameron must act to save Iraqi Christians"

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THE UK head of a Catholic charity has hit out at the British government for helping “to lay the foundations” for the rise of extremists in Iraq who have flushed out the last remaining Christians from Mosul after 1,600 years.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said the UK’s response to uprisings in the Middle East “has blown up in our face” and called on the government to help form “an axis of moderation” in the region.

He went on to warn that, unless action was taken, “before long” the UK could be in line to suffer attacks similar to those experienced by Christians in Iraq.

Mr Kyrke-Smith’s comments came after the Islamic State, formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), told Christians to convert to Islam or leave.

Failure to comply meant ‘there is nothing for them but the sword’ and reports now state that the militants withdrew an earlier offer allowing the Christians to stay provided they pay Islamic Jizya tax.

It means the last remaining Christians have left a city which barely a decade ago was home to up to 60,000 faithful.

On Sunday, 27th July, more than 1,000 Christian families were reportedly leaving the Nineveh Plain, near Mosul, for Kurdistan, amid reports that the Islamic State, was preparing an imminent attack on Christians in the region.

Mr Kyrke-Smith made his remarks after taking part in Saturday’s (26th July) rally opposite London’s Houses of Parliament where up to 1,000 people – including Muslims as well as Christians from many denominations – stood in solidarity with the persecuted people of Mosul.

Highlighting the Islamic State’s violence and intimidation against Christians in Mosul, effectively expelling them from the city, Mr Kyrke-Smith said after the rally: “What is our government doing about this and how are they responding?

“Whether we like to admit it or not, this country’s government has over the years laid the foundation for such a situation to arise.

“Now the government seems incapable or unwilling to help Christians and others suffering and dying at the hands of ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now called the Islamic State].

He added: “The UK’s balanced approach to uprisings in the Middle East – supporting rebels as long as they are not too extreme – has blown up in our face.”

Mr Kyrke-Smith called on the government to take steps to protect Christians and other minorities suffering persecution.

He said: “The UK and other western governments speak about their concerns, but surely they can work to form an axis of moderation in the Middle East.

“We are called to stand with our Christian brothers and sisters now – in prayer and solidarity – and to speak up for religious tolerance, religious freedom and respect for all.”

Mr Kyrke-Smith’s comments after Francis Campbell, former British Ambassador to the Holy See, criticised Prime Minister David Cameron and the Government for failing to act on behalf of persecuted Christians in Iraq.

Public concern about events in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq climaxed with Saturday’s event outside Parliament which Aid to the Church in Need helped to promote.

People wore T-shirts and holding banners with the Arabic symbol for ‘N’ – denoting ‘Nazarene’ or ‘Christian’ – which Islamic State forces daubed on the homes of the faithful in Mosul.

Mr Kyrke-Smith gave a talk during the rally. Other speakers included Monsignor Nizar Semaan of the Syrian Catholic community in London and Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury, Head of the British Orthodox Church.

Also present were a Shi’a Muslim cleric as well as Muslim faithful and Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, Patriarchal Vicar of the UK Syrian Orthodox Church.

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By John Pontifex