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As Islamic State Steps Up Attacks, Christian Leaders Call for Help

10 Mar 2015 – By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Christian leaders again called for help for Assyrian Christians as Islamic State militants stepped up their attacks against their towns in northern Syria.

Syria’s northeast Hassake province is emerging as the new battlefield in the fight against extremist group. Analysts say Hassake province, which extends like a thumb into neighboring Iraq and Turkey, could become the fault line of a new multifront and lengthy war between Islamic State militants and Christians allied with Kurdish fighters.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, warning of the major new offensive on Christian villages along the Khabur River.

“The villages on the south side of the river are in the hands of Islamic State militants,” Ishak told CNS.

“They took Tal Nasri, which is very close to Tal Tamar,” Ishak explained. Tal Tamar “is at the crossroads of many highways to Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city; to Qamishli, to Hassake and Ras al Ain.”

The March attacks follow a raid by Islamic State militants on a cluster of villages along the Khabur River on 23 February. More than 220 Assyrian Christians residents and other minorities were abducted then.

About 20 Assyrian Christians were later released. And although the apostolic nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, told the Rome-based missionary news agency AsiaNews that Islamic State militants released 52 abducted Assyrian Christian families without ransom payment on 5 and 6 March, a priest who talked to church leaders in Hassake confirmed on 9 March those families were not released.

A statement issued by the Syriac National Council of Syria, the European Syriac Union, and the Christian Coalition for Syria said Islamic State militants seized “all villages on the south bank of the Khabur and several villages on the north bank.”

Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the statement, which warned that the extremist group will “try to cross the Khabur with large numbers of fighters and heavy weapons — vastly stronger than the lightly armed self-defense forces of both Christians and Kurds in the area. Residents reported that the Khabur’s water flow strangely and suddenly dropped sharply on [8 March], although its source is in Turkey.”

Turkey should “restore water flows in the Khabur to make crossing the river harder for [the Islamic State extremists] and reopen its border with Syria so fleeing refugees can reach safety,” it said. There is also an “urgent need for more international humanitarian and military assistance,” it added, saying “1.5 million Christians, Kurds, and other civilians are at risk.”

Although U.S. coalition warplanes aided the Kurdish and Christian fighters by striking some Islamic State positions on 7-8 March, the statement said that “coalition airstrikes may put the militants off for a day or two but the situation is truly critical.”

“The Khabur River Valley is large and weakly defended in comparison with [Islamic State] armed battalions and heavy equipment. The ratio of fighters is probably 100 to 1,” the statement added.

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Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Violence against Christians War