37 Assyrian villagers were freed. Reports suggest 'negotiations' took place
37 Assyrian villagers were freed. Reports suggest ‘negotiations’ took place (AINA)

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has released another 37 Assyrian Christians kidnapped nine months ago in Syria, Assyrian sources said.

The group, including men and women in their sixties and seventies, were among the 253 Christians snatched in IS attacks on Assyrian villages in northeastern Syria’s Hassaka province.

Three thousand indigenous Assyrian Christians had been driven from their homes when the jihadists overran 35 villages on the Khabur River in Hassaka Feb. 23.

The newly released hostages arrived safely on Saturday, Nov. 9, at the local town of Tel Tamar, Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reported.

The freed Christians were taken by coach to a local church in Tel Tamar, the largest of the Assyrian towns in the Khabur River region. They were received by the Bishop of Syria of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Ephrem Athanael, the Stockholm-based Assyrian Human Rights Network (AHRN) said.

Most of those released two days ago were from the towns of Tel Shamiram and Tel Jazira, AHRN monitors added.

Negotiations to release the captives were reported between the Assyrian Church of the East and the IS, which had previously demanded $100,000 for each hostage.

The freed were visibly happy after their ordeal
The freed were visibly emotional after their ordeal (AINA)

Further negotiations are understood to be ‘underway,’ sources said.

On October 7, IS had released a video of its militants killing three Assyrian hostages, while threatening to kill more if demands were not met.

The murdered men were from the 253 villagers abducted from Hassaka.

According to AINA, IS still holds captive an estimated 168 other Hassaka Christians, as well as 185 Assyrians abducted from the town of Qaryatain in western Syria’s Homs province in the first week of August.On Oct 10, a Syriac Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Mourad, escaped nearly five months after masked IS gunmen kidnapped him in Homs province.

The prior of the Mar Elian Monastery on the outskirts of Qaryatain was abducted May 21, as IS militants seized the nearby city of Palmyra. When the jihadists swept on in August they captured at least 60 Christians taking refuge in the monastery.

Two weeks later, IS bulldozed the 5th century pilgrimage site.

The Islamic State’s countless acts of violence have particularly targeted religious minorities. Reported abuses include murders and sexual enslavement.

Several international observers, including the UN Security Council, have condemned “gross, systematic and widespread abuse” of human rights by the Islamic State and other like-minded groups in Syria.

Last month, the European Syriac Union, an alliance of different Assyrian/Syriac political and cultural organizations in Europe, highlighted the “irrevocable damage” caused to native people, including ethnic and religious minorities in both Iraq and Syria.

“From the beginning of the fall of Mosul until today, Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people and Ezidis [Yazidis] have been subject to killings, executions, ransom and mass-displacement,” it said.