Fears are growing for the safety of more than 100 people taken captive yesterday (Tuesday 24th February) as the extremist group Islamic State seized Christian villages in Hassake governorate, north-east Syria.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who works in support of persecuted Christians in the region, received a telephone update on the situation from a contact in Hassake city around midnight last night.
Archimandrite Youkhana relayed the latest information in a message sent to Catholic agencies, including Aid to the Church in Need, early this morning (Wednesday, February 25th).
He wrote: “The 24 families from Tel Gouran, 34 families from Tel Jazira, and 14 fighters (12 male and 2 females) from Tel Hormizd are captured and taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier.”
So far it has not been confirmed how many people are in the abducted families.
“They are alive so far, but the men are separated from women and children.”
Commenting on how some local Sunni Arabs had assisted IS, he wrote: “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 neighbours.”
Archimandrite Youkhana went on to describe the latest situation in the various villages.
“The 50+ families in Tel Shamiran are still surrounded. It is unclear if IS will attack the village?
“Can PYD [Democratic Union Kurdish Party] fighters change the situation before the village been taken by IS?”
He reported that in Tel Tamar a car bomb exploded, but no casualties were reported.
Three mortar shells were fired into Tel Nasri from the other side of Khabour River. Again no casualties were reported.
PYD fighters have retaken Toma Yelda hill, which is of strategic importance.
Archimandrite Youkhana wrote: “By now, only around 200 families are still in Khabour region, more than 100 [are] in Tel Tamar and others [are] in different villages not controlled by IS.
“Around 1,000 families from Khabour are displaced in Hassake and Qamishli.
“His Grace Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel [of the Assyrian Church of the East] who resides in Hassake and hasn’t left it despite all difficulties, is doing his 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.
Archimandrite Youkhana added: “Our thoughts are with the suffering people.
“We pray for an end to this long history of persecution in our countries.”
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Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)