Fears grow of battles for Aleppo and Hasakah
The Islamic State group may be closing in on two Syrian cities where significant Christian populations exist.
Reuters reported that Syrian troops and militia battled on Wednesday to repel an Islamic State attack on the city of Hasakah in the Northeast.
"IS is attacking Hasakah, and the situation is not that secure," said Father Emanuel Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program of Northern Iraq. "IS can advance probably as the Arab Sunni tribes may join/help IS."
And on Tuesday, the New York Times reported:
Building on recent gains in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State militants are marching across northern Syria toward Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. … Beginning last week, government airstrikes intensified in towns northeast of Aleppo, killing scores of civilians and rebel fighters. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State escalated a longstanding attempt to seize the area and sever the main supply route to Turkey, a lifeline for rival insurgents and the citizens living in their territory.
The closed US Embassy in Syria, which still maintains a Twitter account, said that reports indicate that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is carrying out air strikes against rebel groups that would actually help support ISIS’ advance on Aleppo.
"Obviously, the news has been quite ominous, and Aleppo is in trouble, regardless," said Joop Koopman, communications director for the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need recently sponsored a visit to the US by Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo. The archbishop wrote to supporters May 27 that "ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful of Aleppo."
"After Maloula, Mosul, Idlib and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes?" Archbishop Jeanbart wrote. "What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities?"
"The fall of Aleppo would be a critical blow to the American-led coalition that is trying to roll back the Islamic State with a combination of Iraqi and rebel ground forces backed by a bombing campaign," the Times said.
Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday that US-led coalition jets carried out several airstrikes on ISIS-held areas in the al-Shaddadi area south of Hasakah.
"SOHR received information that IS brought more than 400 militants from the city of Deir Ezzor to south fronts of the city of al-Hasakah that has witnessed violent clashes with the regime forces and allied militiamen," the group said.
Hasakah is the city where about 400 Christians fled when ISIS forces invaded the Khabour River area in February. Many of the residents of the 35 Christian towns were kidnapped at that time, and some were executed. There has been no report of captives’ whereabouts since then. Only a few have been released.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.