Christian aid groups were expecting to hear about the fate of some 150 Syrian Christian hostages today, but a promised ISIS announcement about the captives was not forthcoming.
According to activists and state-run media in Syria, however, Islamic State group militants moved the 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, according to the Associated Press.
Hassakah 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.
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 Hassakah. 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.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq told Aleteia partner Aid to the Church in Need that 24 families from Tel Gouran, 34 families from Tel Jazira, and 14 fighters from Tel Hormizd were captured and taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier.
"Um Al-Masamier is another Syrian example of what we witnessed in Iraq on how the Arab Sunni joining and supporting IS to attack their long years Christian and Yezedian neighbors, Archimandrite Youkhana said.
He said that Assyrian Church of the East Bishop Aprem Athniel of Hasseke hasn’t left his city despite the difficulties and is doing its 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,” the priest said.
Michel Constantin, regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt for Catholic Near East Welfare Association, has been coordinating efforts for emergency assistance to families in Iraqi Kurdistan. Speaking to Aleteia from Beirut Wednesday, he said his organization is arranging for food packages to reach the displaced families tomorrow.
What are you hearing about the Assyrian Christian villages that have been threatened by Islamic State militants?
I contacted the Assyrian bishop in Hassakah, whose name is Mar Arpem Athniel, and he informed me that already 700 families have been displaced from the Christian villages to Hassakah, and another 200 were displaced to Qamishli, and at present Catholic Near East Welfare Association is conveying funds to buy food packages for 900 families. It will be going through Iraq because you cannot convey the money straight to Syria.
The families are not in tents or camps; they are settled in homes of relatives, or in some cases Christian families have recently fled from Hassakah because of fear of the security situation. So the bishop opened individual houses, and families were settled in individual houses within the city. … Of course, they lack everything: they don’t have any food, heating fuel, medicines. They need many things. We will try to respond to the emergency by tomorrow to convey some money, and we will try to coordinate our efforts with other partners.
We expect another 200 families within a few days.