BEIRUT — Kurdish and Christian militiamen battled Islamic State militants on Wednesday in northeastern Syria, where the extremist group recently abducted at least 70 Christians after overrunning a cluster of villages.
Hassakeh province which borders Turkey and Iraq has become the latest battleground for the fight against IS. 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 Khabur River, seizing dozens of people, many of them women and children. Thousands of others fled to safer areas.
The fate of those kidnapped, almost all of them Assyrian Christians, remained unclear on Wednesday two days after they were seized. The abduction added to fears among religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq, who have been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State group. During the group’s bloody campaign in both countries, where it has declared a self-styled caliphate, minorities have been repeatedly targeted and killed, driven from their homes, had their women enslaved and places of worship destroyed.
The Assyrians are indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.
“We are watching a living history and all that comprises disappear,” wrote Mardean Isaac of A Demand for Action, an activist group that focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East.
He called for further airstrikes by American and western powers to assist those Assyrian and Kurdish forces fighting the militants in Syria. The United States and coalition of regional partners are conducting a campaign of airstrikes against the group.
In its first comments on the subject, the Syrian state-run news agency SANA said around 90 civilians had been kidnapped by IS. It said that the militants burned people’s homes and stole their properties, adding that those kidnapped were taken to Shaddadi city.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Christian group called the Syriac Military Council said heavy clashes against IS militants in the area were continuing. The group, which is fighting alongside Kurds and Arab militiamen, said they were fighting to “push back the barbaric attacks against the freedom fighters.”
The Islamic State group has a history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.
The extremists could also use the Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish militias it is battling in northeastern Syria.
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