Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) militiamen have kidnapped 230 Syrian civilians, including 19 children and 45 women, after invading a village in the province of Homs in central Syria. Among the hostages are 60 Christians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based NGO.
The group included Christians who had fled Aleppo province to the north in search of safety in the village of al-Qaryatain.
Al-Qaryatain, which lies between ISIS territory in the eastern countryside of Homs and areas further west in the Qalamun area, had a pre-war population of 18,000, including Sunni Muslims and around 2,000 Syriac Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
According to reports, al-Qaryatain’s Christian population had dropped to only 300, and by Thursday night, only 180 Christians were left in the town.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that those abducted were wanted by IS for “collaborating with the regime,” and their names were on a list used by the jihadists as they swept through the town.
Families who tried to flee or hide were tracked down and taken by the jihadists, he said.
Amnesty International said the kidnapping underscored the suffering of civilians in the Syrian conflict that has cost over 240,000 lives in the last four years.
“The abhorrent abduction in Syria of more than 200 people by Islamic State highlights the dreadful plight of civilians caught up in the conflict in the country,” said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty’s Syria researcher.
“The group must respect the rules of war and immediately release these civilians unharmed,” he said.
In February, 120 Christians were kidnapped in the region of the Khabur, the border between Syria and Iraq. Some Christians were taken to the monastery of St. Elian, where last May, masked gunmen kidnapped the monastery’s prior, Father Jacques Mourad.
Friday morning, Pope Francis again returned to the topic of Christian persecution in the Middle East in a meeting with young people. “In the Middle East we are seeing that many people are not respected: minorities and Christians are not only not respected but often killed and persecuted. Why? Because their identity is not respected,” he said.
On Thursday, the Pope forcefully condemned global violence against Christians in a letter to the vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Maroun Lahham.
In his letter, the Pope denounced “the atrocious, inhumane and incomprehensible persecution” of the many “victims of fanaticism and intolerance” throughout the world, especially among Christians.
The Pope also urged a change in mentality so that society become more “attentive, sensitive and actively engaged in the face of the persecution carried out against Christians” and other religious minorities. He expressed his hope that “the international community not stand by mute and inert in the face of this intolerable crime, which is an alarming departure from the most basic human rights.”
Meanwhile, Turkey, which recently launched a new strategy to combat the Islamic State, has offered the United States additional access to its airbases in the southeast for coalition strikes against ISIS. Last month, Anatolia finally acceded to Washington’s long-pending request to use the Muslim NATO member’s Incirlik base in Adana province to launch airstrikes against Islamist militants.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.