With reports circulating saying that ISIS forces have kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said prayer is the only possible response. “Let’s pray for those innocent people,” Patriarch Younan told CNA over the phone from Beirut Feb. 24. “It’s a very, let’s say, very ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don’t respect any human life,” he said, noting that the only reaction to Tuesday’s kidnappings is “to pray.” Patriarch Younan, Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, made his comments after the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least 90 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped by ISIS militants after they seized two villages near Tal-Tamr, located in the Al-Hasakah region of Syria. The two villages attacked are inhabited primarily by the country’s ancient Christian minority. Also known as “Hassake,” the Al-Hasakah region is located along the country’s border with Iraq, and is not far from Mount Sinjar, where many Yazidis were trapped and faced starvation after fleeing Mosul and surrounding villages when ISIS began its assault last June. Although he said exact numbers of those kidnapped and killed are still not confirmed, the patriarch revealed that he maintains close contact with the area’s bishop, who says that the situation there has been “very, very tense.” Patriarch Younan said that he has tried to get in touch with Al-Hasakah’s archbishop, Jacques Behnan Hindo, regarding the situation, but has not yet been able to reach him. The Syrian civil war has forced 3 million Syrians, of all religions, to become refugees, with an additional 6.5 million internally displaced. And in Iraq, since the rise of the Islamic State, there are more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons. Fighting between ISIS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria has intensified in recent weeks. The YPG has taken 24 villages as part of an initiative to recapture the town of Tal Hamis, which lies to the east of the two villages captured by ISIS on Tuesday, Aljazeera agency reports. Since last month’s recapture of the town of Kobane, which borders Turkey, YPG forces have continued to advance, and have been active in Raqa, which neighbors Al-Hasakah. So far they have regained 19 villages in the area. The observatory reports that the U.S.-led international coalition, which has backed Kurdish forces against ISIS, carried out a series of attacks on Tuesday near Tal Hamis, killing 14 ISIS fighters. Patriarch Younan said that although it’s “so easy” for the ISIS terrorists “to kill and to cut the throat” of non-Muslims, he hopes that will not be the fate of those who were taken on Tuesday. One possibility, he noted, is that the Christians who were taken will be exchanged by ISIS militants for prisoners being held by the Kurdish army. “Hopefully they will do it,” the patriarch said. But, he described the ISIS militants as being “full of hatred and venomous feelings toward the Christians over there.” The ISIS fighters, which he referred to as “military terrorists,” are “ready to do all the horrible acts without any human feelings…But as I said, we keep praying and hoping.”
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