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Syrian City Overrun by ISIS, Prompting Masses to Flee

ISIS – Flag – Mujahideen Shura Council 01 © Mujahideen Shura Council

© Mujahideen Shura Council

John Burger - published on 07/01/15

Christians leave Hassakeh en masse, as tragic as Mosul in 2014

Nearly 4,000 Christian families have fled the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh with the advance of forces of the Islamic State group, Fides reported.

ISIS managed last Thursday, June 25, to enter some neighborhoods, causing the mass exodus of at least 120,000 people, the news service said. "Nearly 4,000 Christian families belonging to various Churches (Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox) were among the first to flee, and have largely taken refuge in the nearby urban area of Qamishli," it said.

The situation is reminiscent of Mosul in June 2014, when Christian residents fled ISIS’s takeover of Iraq’s second-largest city. Many fled a second time when ISIS moved into the towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain region where they took refuge. 

Fides reported:

Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, head of the Syrian Catholic Archieparchy in Hassakeh Nisibi, has abandoned Hassakè along with his faithful and has also found shelter in Qamishli. He reports the many factors involved in the Syrian conflict: "The government army – refers Archbishop Hindo to Agenzia Fides – is currently gaining ground, with much difficulty, as fighting takes place in an urban environment. On the other hand, the Kurdish militias in the region have responded to the raids of Daesh only when the jihadists tried to attack the Kurdish districts, concentrated in the eastern part of the city. Until that moment the government had not provided support to the army.

The archbishop also said that part of the local population is sympathetic to ISIS. When the militants arrived in the southeastern district of al-Nachwa, women and children were asked to leave the city, he said. "But young boys and adults remained, and have sided with [ISIS]. And now that very large neighborhood is at the center of the most violent clashes between government forces and those of the so-called Islamic State."

Refugees are amassing mainly in Qamishli, and humanitarian emergency assistance has begun. Caritas Syria has sent aid, Archbishop Hindo said, "but the needs increase day by day." Christians, like everyone else, are concentrated in makeshift camps, he said. "Many sleep in the open, and the situation gets more and more complicated by the day, due to the unbearable heat."

Caritas Syria’s president Archbishop Antoine Audo, pointed out that only a few months ago inhabitants of 36 Christian villages in northeastern Syria were forced to flee their homes, with many taking shelter in Hassakeh. 

"We fear that the same thing will be repeated in Hassakeh and Qamishli, where large numbers of Christians live.”

Caritas also has a center in Qamishli and is preparing to help families who have fled. Local families in Qamishli are also opening their houses to the displaced. 

Michel Constantin of Catholic Near East Welfare Association‘s Beirut office, reported:

In the wake of the latest attack by ISIS on Hassake city on Wednesday 24 June, the terrorist organization was able to gain control of the Al Nashwa neighborhood south of the city. Clashes are still ongoing between members of ISIS and government forces backed by militias.

But Constantin was reluctant to compare the situation to Mosul. "The fighting is still going on and it is fierce," he said. "n Mosul, the area was occupied without any local resistance and without any real fighting."

In Hassake we have different parties involved in fighting ISIS. In addition to the Syrian regular army, the Kurdish fighters and local inhabitants of Sunni Arab nomad clans (al Shouaytat family) are also fighting on the side of the Syrian troops.

This Sunni clan is one of the largest in northern Syria. Last year, they lost about 925 young men. The men opposed ISIS occupying their region, and the militants executed them all within three days.

CNEWA has rushed funds for the displaced Christians of the city, and is working with partners on the ground to respond to the growing needs of the families in flight.

Christians in the Middle EastIslamist MilitantsSyria
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