Fears for 90 Assyrian Christians kidnapped by Isil
Islamic State militants have abducted at least 90 people from Assyrian Christian villages in north-eastern Syria, said a monitoring group tracking violence in Syria yesterday.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they carried out dawn raids on rural villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority west of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds. Syrian Kurdish militia launched two offensives against the militants in northeast Syria on Sunday, helped by American-led air strikes and Iraqi peshmerga.
This part of Syria borders territory controlled by Isil in Iraq, where it committed atrocities last year against the Yazidi religious minority.
Isil did not confirm the kidnappings. Supporters posted photos online of the group's fighters in camouflage attire looking at maps and firing machine guns.
The website said the photos were from Tel Tamr, a town near where the Observatory said the abductions occurred.
Many Assyrian Christians have emigrated in the nearly four-year-long conflict in which more than 200,000 have people have been killed.
Before the arrival of Kurds and Arab nomadic tribes at the end of the 19th century, Christians formed the majority in Syria's Jazeera area, which includes Hasaka.
An offensive by Kurdish YPG militia reached within three miles of Tel Hamis, an Islamic State-controlled town southeast of Qamishli, the Observatory said.
At least 14 Isil fighters died in the offensive, in which Assyrians fought alongside Kurds, it added. Eight civilians were also killed in heavy shelling by the Kurdish side, which seized several Arab villages from Isil control.
Last year, Isil fighters abducted several Assyrians in retaliation for some of them fighting alongside the YPG. Most were released after long negotiations.
However, military experts said militants were trying to open a new front to relieve pressure on Isil after several losses since being driven out from the Syrian town of Kobani near the border with Turkey.
"Islamic State are losing in several areas so they want to wage an attack on a new area," said retired Jordanian general Fayez Dwiri.
Since driving Isil from Kobani, Kurdish forces, backed by other Syrian armed groups, have pursued the group's fighters as far as their provincial stronghold of Raqqa and have made significant gains.