The United States will never be at war with Islam but is fighting "terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims, President Barack Obama said Monday after meeting with top military advisers at the Pentagon.
Obama, who has conceded in the past that the U.S. lacks a “complete strategy” to fight ISIS, said the nation’s military is making progress against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but said the nation is in a "long-term campaign" against the Islamic State.
He stressed that the United States is working with a 60-nation coalition, and that local forces must take the initiative, according to a report on the meeting by USA Today. Military force alone will not "degrade" and "destroy" the Islamic State, he said, citing diplomatic and economic efforts that include efforts to cut off terrorists’ money.
The United States and other countries must remain vigilant against "lone wolves" who might be inspired by the Islamic State to launch terrorist attacks, Obama said. That includes projects to counter an extremist ideology that seeks to attract adherents, including young Muslim men.
"Ideologies are not defeated with guns," Obama said, "they are defeated by better ideas."
His remarks came in the middle of Ramadan, when several attacks, apparently inspired by a call from the Islamic State group during the Muslim holy month, have left hundreds of people dead in Tunisia, Kuwait and France.
A video released early this week shows militants executing 25 captives in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, CNN reported. The international community had feared that ISIS would destroy the ancient ruins when it took over Palmyra, in the same way it destroyed ancient artifacts in Iraq.
The execution reportedly took place at the end of May. The graphic video shows captives, heads down and dressed in dark fatigues, as they are herded single-file onto the stage of an ancient arena. A row of young men, many appearing to be in their teens, stands behind the prisoners while an older man reads a document to the assembled crowd.
Periodically, the video shows men seated on the crumbling stone seats. Some are waving ISIS flags, but others appear distressed, hiding their faces and even crying.
When the cue is given, the young militants shoot the assembled captives all at once. The scene includes an editing trick which runs the film in reverse, making the deceased appear to rise and get shot again.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself "Islamic State in Palestine" reportedly distributed leaflets ordering the Christian community in Jerusalem to leave the city by the end of Ramadan, July 18.
The message on the leaflets, which bear the black flag of ISIS, threatens Christians with death if they do not comply—a warning that recalls the ultimatum ISIS gave to Christians in Mosul in the summer of 2014, according to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. There have been numerous reports of Muslim Israeli citizens attempting to join ISIS forces, while there have been expressions of support for ISIS in the Palestinian territories.
“We must take these threats seriously. It would be enough that three young fundamentalists, armed with knives, attack a Christian home to cause panic in the Christian community,” said Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, urging the faithful to be vigilant
"There are threats. But if we compare our situation with what is happening in neighboring countries, we still feel much more secure," Bishop Shomali told Aid to the Church in Need. "Former Patriarch Michel Sabbah responded said that [Christians] are not afraid and that we will remain in the land. His words gave peace to many people."
The Guardian reported earlier last week that the Islamic State has vowed to take over the Gaza Strip and institute strict Islamic law there. In a video statement issued at the end of June, ISIS accused Hamas, the organization that rules the Palestinian territory, of being insufficiently stringent about religious enforcement.
“We will uproot the state of the Jews [Israel] and you and Fatah, and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes,” said a masked Islamic State member in the message addressed to the “tyrants of Hamas.”
“The rule of sharia will be implemented in Gaza, in spite of you. We swear that what is happening in the Levant today, and in particular the Yarmouk camp, will happen in Gaza,” he said, referring to Islamic State advances in Syria, including in a Damascus district founded by Palestinian refugees.
There are approximately 160,000 Christians in Israel, the majority of the Arab and cizitens of the Jewish state. They represent just 2 percent of the total population.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify before the Senate committee on the Pentagon’s counter-ISIL strategy, headed by Arizona Republican John McCain. Last week, Dempsey described the strategy as building a network of local forces stretching from Africa to Afghanistan to address regional threats, said USA Today.