Damascus (AsiaNews) - Initial "reports mentioned 90 people abducted but for others the actual number is greater, perhaps 150. A church was destroyed, at least three Assyrian villages have been occupied and people have had to flee. We do not have accurate information, but the initial evidence points to a tragic situation," said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, Latin apostolic vicar to Aleppo.
The prelate spoke to AsiaNews about Monday's attack by the Islamic State group against Assyrian villages like Tel Tamar, Tel Shamiran, Tel Hermuz, Goran Tel and Tel Khareta, in north-eastern Syria. Jihadists reportedly raped a woman and then murdered her, but the information could not be confirmed.
Whilst everyone is suffering, "Christians feel they have been abandoned," said Mgr Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus.
Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council, reports that latest figure for abducted Christians is at least 150, more than the early figure of 90. They were taken in Al-Hasakah Governorate, north-east of the country, where Assyrian Christian communities have lived for centuries.
Some reports indicate that Islamic State militants killed some hostages. "Jihadists have taken a lot of people, including women, the elderly and children," said a local source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. "They burnt their houses, and torched a church." And "At least six" people were killed. The terrorists "also raped a woman before killing her."
The Syriac Military Council, a Christian paramilitary organisation, said that the IS attack on Christian villages was an act of revenge following jihadist defeat in Kobane and other villages in the area, following the Peshmerga offensive and international coalition air strikes.
The apostolic nuncio in Damascus agrees. "They came down from the mountains around 3 am Monday morning, and attacked an area largely inhabited by Assyrian-Nestorian," he told AsiaNews.
This a "high risk area." Some "four or five months ago, I received a text message from the bishop of Hassakah, in which he warned that the danger of a jihadist invasion was high."
After they were pushed out of Kobane, "they shifted to these villages to seize more land," Mgr Zenari explained. Now Christians feel abandoned, he added. However, everyone has suffered. "I see blood everywhere, in the cities, in the neighbourhoods. The desert has changed colour. It is no longer golden yellow but blood red."
The prelate said he hopes that "sooner or later reason will prevail" and "the war will end. It must end" even though at present, "we are still in the middle of winter, not some Arab Spring."
Addressing directly the West and the international community, the apostolic vicar to Aleppo warned emphatically that "military action against the Islamic state is not the right way" to solve the crisis and restore peace and security to Syria and Iraq. "I never believed in war because it creates more hatred and division," he explained.
"The West claims that it is fighting these groups," the prelate said. "Yet, it helps them too. Who is buying their oil? Who is selling them weapons? Who is involved in trafficking of priceless archaeological artefacts?"
For Mgr Abou Khazen, there is a lot of "hypocrisy" in the fight against the terrorists. "This will not be solved with bombs; cutting financial and military supplies will. What we ask is for others to stop supporting these people, to stop selling them weapons. We have been saying this for some time but no one has been listening to us."
The attacked Assyrian community, he said, has lived "in the area for thousands of years with its own ancient traditions and rites. Defenceless, its members have been uprooted. Campaigns are undertaken to save animals threatened by extinction to allow them to live in their habitat. But what is being done for us," he laments.
Christians are gripped by a sense of fear, Mgr Georges noted. "Many want to run away and this is a very dangerous sign. Removing Christianity from these lands would be a tragedy for everyone. Maybe the aim is to create another Afghanistan, in the hands of new Taliban".
"This is our reading of the situation," the prelate said. "They want to empty the Middle East of its Christians and create many small confessional states."
"We Christians are the only ones spread across the territories of Syria and Iraq. We are the only ones who defend national unity and uphold the principle of pluralism . . . something that they increasingly want to destroy." (DS)