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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
At Least 230 People, Including 45 Women and 11 Children, Taken after Heavy Fighting between ISIS and the Syrian Army
International Christian Concern
Islamic State militants have captured dozens of Christian families after seizing a strategically located town in the central Syrian province of Homs, according to a monitor from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Friday. The monitor said at least 230 people were kidnapped or detained, including dozens of Christians, some of whom were taken from the Dar Alyan monastery in Qaryatain, the town captured overnight after intense fighting with the Syrian army.
Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Observatory, said the Christians were "either kidnapped from checkpoints or raids or from churches." Among those seized were 45 women and 19 children, including 11 families, some of whom were on a list of persons suspected by the militant group of "collaborating with the regime." The families of hundreds of Christian and Muslim residents of Qaryatain have lost contact with them since the militants captured the area, according to Abdulrahman. He fears that ISIS may also target other Christian population centers in Hawwarin and Sadad.
Towns like Qaryatain are key to ISIS because they are along the Damascus-Homs Highway, a route used to ferry supplies and fighters. The hardline militant group has been gaining ground in the desert areas east and south of Homs after it took over the ancient Roman city of Palmyra last May. The Syrian army has launched a large-scale counteroffensive to recapture the city, which lies in a region where some of Syria's largest gas fields are located, but so far has made no significance advances. An army statement said its forces had targeted "terrorist outposts" in the area and killed scores of militants but did not confirm the capture of the town by the militants.
An Assyrian Christian group said these abductions were the latest in a string of events that targeted their community, one of the oldest Christian populations in the Middle East. Two priests, Father Yacoub Murad and Monk Petros, who ran two monasteries in the area, went missing last May from the town of Qaryatain, according to the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights, a Christian lobby group. The group said at least 1,400 families had fled the town to safer areas or took shelter in the government-controlled city of Homs.
Islamic State has killed members of religious minorities and Sunni Muslims who do not swear allegiance to its self-declared "caliphate". They also consider Christians as infidels. Last February, the hardline jihadists abducted at least 250 Assyrian Christians, many of whom were children and women, during raids on villages in northeastern Syria. That mass abduction coincided with an offensive in the same region by Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes. The fate of many of these civilians is unclear, as is that of a number of other priests who have gone missing and are believed to be held by the militants, according to Christian groups.
Isaac Six, ICC's Advocacy Director, said, "ICC unequivocally condemns this most recent abduction of Christians in Syria. Coming on top of the kidnapping of 250 Christians last February and Father Yacoub and Monk Petros in May, this latest incident should be a clarion call for the international community to take action. No one, even in time of war, should fear being kidnapped, held for ransom and possibly executed simply for their religious beliefs. We grieve for the families of those who have been abducted even as we call on the United States and other allies to step up efforts to protect Christians and other religious minorities from the barbaric actions of the Islamic State."
For interviews, contact Isaac Six, Advocacy Director: Advocacy@persecution.org
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