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Terror escalates for Syria’s Christians

Displaced Syrian girl

Safe haven: A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, on February 23.
Photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA

FEARS are growing for the safety of more than 100 people taken captive on Tuesday (February 24) as the extremist group Islamic State seized Christian villages in Hassake governorate, north-east Syria.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who works in support of persecuted Christians in the region, received a telephone update on the situation from a contact in Hassake city about midnight on Tuesday.

Fr Youkhana relayed the latest information in a message sent to Catholic agencies, including Aid to the Church in Need, early yesterday (February 25).

He wrote: “The 24 families from Tel Gouran, 34 families from Tel Jazira, and 14 fighters (12 male and two females) from Tel Hormizd are captured and taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier.”

So far it has not been confirmed how many people are in the abducted families.

“They are alive so far, but the men are separated from women and children.”

Fr Youkhana described the latest situation in the various villages.

“The 50-plus families in Tel Shamiran are still surrounded. It is unclear if IS will attack the village,” he said.

He reported that in Tel Tamar a car bomb exploded, but no casualties were reported.

Three mortar shells were fired into Tel Nasri from the other side of Khabour River. Again no casualties were reported.

PYD (Democratic Union Kurdish Party) fighters have retaken Toma Yelda hill, which is of strategic importance.

Fr Youkhana wrote: “By now, only around 200 families are still in Khabour region, more than 100 (are) in Tel Tamar and others (are) in different villages not controlled by IS.

“Around 1000 families from Khabour are displaced in Hassake and Qamishli.

“His Grace Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel (of the Assyrian Church of the East) who resides in Hassake and hasn’t left it despite all difficulties, is doing his best to host and support the displaced.

“However, due to the lack of resources and the long years of the disaster, there is an urgent need of action to support the displaced families through the Church.”

Fr Youkhana said “our thoughts are with the suffering people”.

“We pray for an end to this long history of persecution in our countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Catholic News Service reported that a prominent Syrian Christian political leader had called for United States-led coalition forces to use airstrikes to aid fellow Christian and Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants following reports of flagrant abductions and church burnings in north-east Syria.

“There is a need for immediate action similar to what took place in Kobani,” president of the Syriac National Council of Syria Bassam Ishak told Catholic News Service, referring to a key Kurdish city in Syria.

There, near the border with Turkey and with help from international airstrikes, the Kurds drove out the extremist militants in January after a four-month siege resulted in a victory against the extremists.

Mr Ishak’s appeal to stop the Islamic State advancement has been echoed by Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Hindo of Hassake.

“I wish to say quite clearly that we have the feeling of being abandoned into the hands of those Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State),” Archbishop Hindo told the Vatican’s Fides news service. “American bombers flew over the area several times, but without taking action.”

Analysts in Washington confirmed his information. They said US planes flew overhead, but there were no airstrikes made against Islamic State militants in the Hassake area.

Zenit and CNS

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