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Turkish border closed as Christian hostages in Syria spike to 250

by Elise Harris

Rome, Italy, Feb 26, 2015 / 07:13 am (CNA/EWTN News) - The number of ISIS hostages in Syria has increased to at least 250 after continued attacks on Christian villages, and civilians fleeing to the Turkish border have been stranded when not allowed to cross.

“There are 200 families who were running away and trying to escape to Turkey, but the border is closed for Syrians. No Syrian can cross into Turkey,” Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo told CNA Feb. 26.

Archbishop Hindo oversees the Syrian archdiocese of Hassake, which is located in the Al-Hasakah region of Syria. The region sits between the country’s borders with both Turkey and Iraq.

He spoke to CNA in French over the phone with a patchy connection from his diocese in Syria, where internet is currently down, saying that ISIS has continued its assault in the area, raising the number of hostages to more than 250 after an estimated 90 were kidnapped during attacks earlier this week.

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least 90 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped by ISIS after militants seized two villages near Al-Hasakah’s city of Tal-Tamr.

The two villages attacked are inhabited primarily by the country’s ancient Christian minority. After Tuesday’s attacks, ISIS has gone on to claim eight more such villages over the past three days.

Archbishop Hindo said that today around 4 a.m. “(ISIS) attacked two villages, which are a Christian majority. They took families from both villages.”

Entire families were abducted, he noted, including fathers, mothers, children and grandparents. He said that the militants took families from one village, before moving to the second and abducting more from that one.

ISIS then took the families back to their Syrian stronghold in the city of Sheddadi, which sits roughly 25 miles south of Hassake.

Archbishop Hindo expressed his concern for fate of the ISIS hostages, particularly the elderly, women and children, as well as that of the families who fled to the Turkish border, which has been closed to all Syrians.

So far the Syrian civil war has forced 3 million Syrians, of all religions, to become refugees, with an additional 6.5 million internally displaced. And in Iraq, since the rise of the Islamic State, there are more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons.

The number of displaced persons is expected to rise after ISIS’s recent attacks in northeastern Syria.

Fighting between ISIS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria has intensified in recent weeks. The YPG has taken 24 villages as part of an initiative to recapture the town of Tal Hamis, which lies to the east of the two villages captured by ISIS on Tuesday, Aljazeera agency reports.

Since last month’s recapture of the town of Kobane, which borders Turkey, YPG forces have continued to advance, and have been active in Raqa, which neighbors Al-Hasakah. So far they have regained 19 villages in the area.

Although the U.S.-led international coalition, which has backed Kurdish forces against ISIS, carried out a series of attacks Tuesday near Tal Hamis that killed 14 ISIS fighters, Archbishop Hindo said military invention from the West over the last few days has been sparse.

The archbishop said that every night he can hear planes passing over their heads, but “without bombing or doing anything…in the past four days air operations have been suspended. I ask myself why.”

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