03/13/2015, 00.00
SYRIA
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Nuncio to Syria has no news about abducted Christians, but is "confident" in a positive outcome

Mgr Zenari told AsiaNews that the Islamic State group still holds about 200 Christians. He regrets that a previous release attempt failed because of an ambush that forced the Jihadists to retreat. For the prelate, there is still enough "good will to find a solution."

Damascus (AsiaNews) - There have been "no further developments" concerning the Assyrian Christians abducted in Syria; however, "I am confident in a positive outcome," said Mgr Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria.

Local sources told the prelate that the Islamic State (IS) group still holds some 200 Christians; however, he told AsiaNews that he is optimistic about their release.

"I am confident and hopeful that all the Christians will regain their freedom," said the Vatican diplomat. "Even the last episode could have ended in a positive way, but the ambush unfortunately botched the release."

On 23 February, the Islamic State group abducted hundreds of Christians from a number of villages in north-eastern Syria, near the border with Turkey.

Earlier this month the terrorists released a first group of 19 Christians after the payment of a ransom of about US$ 1,700 for each.

Last week, an agreement to release the remaining hostages fell through following an ambush,  probably by Kurdish fighters, against the motorcade carrying the prisoners.

IS had abducted scores of Christian families - about 250 people - during an offensive against Assyrian villages in the Al Hasakah Governorate, in north-eastern Syria. However, the figure could not be verified. Initial claims that they were executed were later denied.

The area is strategic because it links caliphate-controlled regions in Syria with those in Iraq, and can be used as corridor to bring in weapons, supplies and fighters from Turkey.

Local witnesses report that, following the offensive, more than 5,000 Assyrians (out of 30,000) left the country for security reason. Their community is one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

Mgr Zenari told AsiaNews that, according to his sources, the situation remains "complicated, but is evolving." In fact, there is still hope for "a positive outcome" for something that could already be a done deal.

"The ambush stopped the release of the last hostages," he said. "They were on three minibuses and five km from the agreed meeting point".

"The ambush forced IS to turn around and the [rescue] operation was over. As they retreated, they seized other families, and now have about 200 people."

After expressing his regrets for what happened, the apostolic nuncio said he was still confident that there is enough "good will to find a solution."

Since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2011, more than 3.2 million people have fled the country whilst another 7.6 million are internally displaced. At least 200,000 people have been killed in the fighting, many of them civilians. Last year was the worse.

In the spring of 2013, the Islamic State group emerged out of the cauldron of Syria's civil war, with all its violence and brutality. From that point, it advanced rapidly, seizing large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory, where it has imposed a virtual reign of terror. (DS)

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