Damascus (AsiaNews) - Islamic State (IS) terrorists on Sunday freed 19 of the 220 Assyrian Christians they took hostage in Tal Tamr (Syria) last week, after a US$ 1,700 ransom per person was paid for their release, activists said.
"Nineteen Assyrian hostages arrived on Sunday at the Church of Our Lady in Hasakah after they were released by IS," said Osama Edward, the director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.
"They arrived on two buses from Shaddadeh," the IS stronghold in the north-eastern province of Hasakah.
Edward said an IS "religious court" decided on Saturday to release the 19 Christians in exchange for a sum of money paid by each family. IS considers the ransom as "jizya".
The "jizya" is a poll tax, based on the Qur'an, that Muslims can impose on Jews and Christians living in Islamic lands for "protection". In return, they are not require to convert to Islam.
Negotiations for the release of the hostages began on Saturday between Assyrian officials and local Arab Muslim tribal chiefs. According to local sources, IS controls ten Christian villages.
Negotiators are trying to secure the release of 201 Assyrians still held captive. "We're trying to contact any party that might help. We're working through our friends the tribal sheikhs," said Younan Talia, a senior official in the Assyrian Democratic Organisation.
"Some friends of Daesh are trying to send messages," he added, but there have been no response yet. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
After the Angelus Marian prayer, Pope Francis called on the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square to pray in silence for the people of Syria and Iraq, hit by Islamist violence.
"Unfortunately," he said, "unending tragic news continue to come out of Syria and Iraq, about acts of violence, abduction and harassment against Christians and other groups. Let those involved in these situations be aware that we have not forgotten them, that we are close to them, and that we are praying insistently for an end to the intolerable brutality of which they are victims."
"Together with the members of the Roman Curia, I offered, according to this intention, the last Mass the Spiritual Exercises, last Friday. At the same time I call on everyone, according to their possibilities, to work to alleviate the suffering of those who are tested, often only because of the faith they profess. Let us pray for these brothers and sisters, who suffer for their faith. In Syria, in Iraq. Let us pray in silence."