Beirut: Islamic State group militants have moved a large group of Christian hostages to a city they control in northeastern Syria, while they continue to battle Kurdish and Christian militiamen for control of a chain of villages along the Khabur River, activists and state-run media said on Wednesday.
Hassakeh province which borders Turkey and Iraq has become the latest battleground for the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. It is predominantly Kurdish but also has populations of Arabs and predominantly Christian Assyrians and Armenians.
In pre-dawn attacks, the group on Monday attacked communities nestled along the river, seizing at least 70 people, many of them women and children. Thousands of others fled to safer areas. The fate of those kidnapped, almost all of them Assyrian Christians, remained unclear on Wednesday, two days after they were seized.
However, the state-run SANA news agency and the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria said the hostages have been moved to the Islamic State-controlled city of Shaddadeh, south of the city of Hassakeh. The United States and a coalition of regional partners are conducting a campaign of airstrikes against the group, and have on occasion struck Shaddadeh, a predominantly Arab town.
“In addition to its strategy of terrifying people, taking hostages to use as human shields to protect from coalition airstrikes is another of their goals,” said Osama Edward, director of the Stockholm-based Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria. The mass abduction added to fears among religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq, who have been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State group.
During the group’s bloody campaign in both countries, where it has declared a self-styled caliphate, minorities have been repeatedly targeted and killed, driven from their homes, had their women enslaved and places of worship destroyed. The Assyrians are indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.
“We are watching a living history and all that comprises (it) disappear,” wrote Mardean Isaac of A Demand for Action, an activist group that focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East. He called for further airstrikes to assist those Assyrian and Kurdish forces fighting the militants in Syria. The United States and coalition of regional partners are conducting a campaign of airstrikes against the group. In its first comments on the subject, SANA said around 90 civilians had been kidnapped by the extremists.
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