Mystery martyr’s church unearthed in the Holy Land

Mystery martyr’s church unearthed in the Holy Land
By Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Byzantine-era church built in honor of an unnamed martyr has been unearthed near Jerusalem after a three-year excavation, Israeli researchers said on Wednesday.

The dig uncovered floors decorated with vast mosaics depicting birds, fruit and plants, colorful frescoes, and a curious Greek inscription that has baffled the researchers.

“We found one inscription in the courtyard of the church which dedicates the site in the memory of a ‘glorious martyr,'” said Benyamin Storchan, who directed the excavation. “The martyr is unnamed and it’s still a mystery.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) dates the shrine, located about 10 miles west of Jerusalem, to the 6th century.

An underground crypt found below the main part of the church is believed to have housed the martyr’s remains. “This is the holiest place in the church,” said Storchan, adding that pilgrims likely frequented the site.

Though the martyr in question is unknown, Storchan said the lavishness of the complex may indicate this person was an important figure. Another inscription showed Byzantine emperor Tiberius II Constantinus had helped fund the church’s later expansion.

“We know of a few hundred churches in the Holy Land but this church by far surpasses most of them by its state of preservation and the imperial involvement which funded it,” said Storchan.

(Reporting by Ronen Zvulun; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by David Holmes)

Despite Tillerson reassurance, Palestinians not stopping ‘martyr’ payments

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinian officials say there are no plans to stop payments to families of Palestinians killed or wounded carrying out attacks against Israelis, contradicting comments by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson told a Senate hearing on Tuesday he had received reassurances from President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian Authority would end the practice of paying a monthly stipend to the families of suicide bombers and other attackers, commonly referred to by Palestinians as martyrs.

The issue of compensation has become a sticking point in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Israeli officials citing it as one reason they do not regard Abbas as a “partner for peace”.

“They have changed their policy,” Tillerson said, referring to the Palestinians. “At least I have been informed they’ve changed that policy and their intent is to cease payments.”

But Palestinian officials said they were not aware of any change and that it was unlikely a policy that has been a cornerstone of social support for decades would be altered.

“There have been talks about making the payments in a different way, but not ending them,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on discussions held with the Americans.

“They could perhaps be labeled differently,” he said, suggesting the description “martyr” could be dropped, but he added: “They are not going to be stopped.”

The Palestinian Authority makes a variety of social security payments, mostly to families, for those convicted and imprisoned by Israel for fighting against the occupation and those killed in violence, whether they were carrying out suicide attacks, shot while throwing stones or in other circumstances.

Amounts vary depending on whether the person killed was married or had children. Those wounded also receive aid.

In total, some 35,000 families receive support from a dedicated fund established in the 1960s, including those living outside the Palestinian territories. Some estimates suggest the fund distributes as much as $100 million a year.

At the same time, there are 6,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including 500 detained without charge, in some cases for years. All of them, including around 300 children and 50 women, receive monthly support from the Palestinian Authority.

For Abbas, ending such payments would be politically fraught. Surveys show he is highly unpopular and that would only likely worsen if support were stopped. It would probably strengthen his rival in the Islamist group Hamas.

However, Abbas has taken some steps to stop payments in recent weeks, following meetings he held with President Donald Trump in Washington at the start of May and later the same month when the president visited the region.

Some 277 Palestinians released from Israeli jails under a prisoner-swap agreement and transported to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in charge, had their monthly stipends stopped, they told Reuters this month.

Yet that decision seemed more about cutting funds that may help Hamas in Gaza rather than responding to U.S. or Israeli demands to end payments to those who have carried out attacks.

Israeli officials said they had seen no evidence that the Palestinian Authority was stopping support.

“Israel is unaware of any change in the policy of the Palestinians, who continue to make payments to the families of terrorists,” an official said, describing the payments a form of incitement to carry out violence.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Luke Baker and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Report Says One Christian Martyred Every 5 Minutes

A new report from Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe shows that one Christian is being martyred worldwide every five minutes.

Massimo Introvigne told a conference there are about 105,000 Christians killed every year for their faith.  That number doesn’t include victims of war.

“If these numbers are not cried out to the world, if this slaughter is not stopped, if it is not acknowledged that the persecution of Christians is the first worldwide emergency in the matter of violence and religious discrimination, the dialogue between religions will only produce beautiful conferences but no concrete results,” Introvigne said according to

The data also showed that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are being held in North Korean prison camps.

The report’s publishers said they were making the information available for Christians to keep in mind during the upcoming National Day of Prayer.

“I think it’s important considering all that has happened in the last year, from Iraq to Syria, to the issues of persecution in North Korea; that we have a time here in America to come together and pray as one body of believers for the people who are part of our family, who are persecuted,” Open Doors CEO and President David Curry said.

ISIS Beheads Japanese Christian Who Tried To Save Friend

Kenji Goto, 47, was slaughtered by the Islamic extremist group ISIS in a video released to social media over the weekend.  Goto told reporters last year he felt compelled by the Lord to do all he could to help rescue Haruna Yukawa after he was abducted by the terrorists in Aleppo last year.

Goto said he found the Lord in 1997 and had dedicated his life to following the Lord’s call.  He said he wanted to minister to Yukawa, who had faced a difficult life including bankruptcy and his wife’s suicide attempt and battle with cancer.

Goto went to Syria and made his way to Raqqa, the headquarters of the terrorist group, in an attempt to negotiate for his friend’s freedom.

“I need to go there at least once and see my fixers (freelance journalist connections) and ask them what the current situation is,” he told Reuters. “I need to talk to them face to face. I think that’s necessary.”

Goto believed that because Japan was not part of the coalition against the group, he likely would have a greater chance of success.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinto Abe, made bold statements after the killing.  In a departure from the country’s post-World War II pattern of pacifism, he said Japan would do all they could to work with the international community to bring the killers to justice.