02/23/2016, 17.01
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Islamic State frees last group of Assyrian Christians of Hassaké

Confirmation in an official note of Acero, the Assyrian association that oversaw the negotiations for the release. Freed, for a fee, also the last 43 community members. To date there are more hostages in the hands of jihadists. In recent months three people had been executed.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The militias of the Islamic State (IS) have released the last group of Christians (pictured), still in their hands, part of a community of at least 200 worshipers seized last year in the northeast of Syria . 42 people were released yesterday morning, thanks to the mediation of leaders of the Assyrian Church, which has worked for the release of all prisoners.

In a statement the members of Acero (Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization, which focused first on the release of the Assyrian Christians) "confirm" the liberation "of the last group of hostages kidnapped in February 2015," still in the hands of IS.

The group was met by the Assyrian bishop Mar Afram Athneil, who negotiated the terms of the release. To date, the statement continued, "there are no longer hostage" in the hands of militias and "any word contrary is without foundation."

Thanking those who "worked in these 12 months" for the release of hundreds of faithful and "rejoicing" for the happy outcome of the case, the organization's " we mourn the tremendous losses, both human and material, suffered by the indigenous Assyrians of Syria".

Some sources close to the Assyrian community, say that their release came after  18 million dollars was paid in ransom; others speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the payment of a large sum of money, "but not 18 million. less than half "was paid. One community member reports that, to date, the fate of five Assyrians, also seized last year by jihadists remains unknown and they are still untraceable.

A year ago, 23 February 2015, hundreds of Assyrian Christians of the villages along the Khabur River, near Tal Tamr, in the governorate of Al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, were abducted by the Islamic State (IS). These included women, children and elderly. In the days following the collective seizure, the terrorists freed a first group of 19 Christians, following the payment of a ransom of about 1,700 US dollars each.

Later, through contacts with negotiators  and spokesmen, an agreement had been reached for the delivery of all prisoners.  However, an ambush – probably carried out by Kurdish fighters - of the jihadist convoy that was about to release all prisoners, scuttled the operation.

The kidnapping of Christian families - at least 250 people, but the exact numbers have always been uncertain, three of whom were summarily executed - happened during the offensive launched by jihadists against majority Assyrian villages in the northeast . This is an area of strategic importance, because it represents a kind of bridge between the lands of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq and allows the opening of a corridor with Turkey for weapons, supplies and fighters.

Local witnesses reported that, following the offensive of Daesh militias [Arabic acronym of the Islamic state, IS], more than 5 thousand Assyrians - of 30 thousand that made up one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East - decided to leave the country, choosing exodus in search of a safety and shelter.
Until March 2011 up to 40 thousand Assyrian Christians lived in Syria, when the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began, before being transformed over time into a bloody war that has caused 260 thousand deaths and over 11 million displaced people. There were at least 1.2 million Christians of varying denominations. Today the number, as in neighboring Iraq, has been halved.

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