Christians are being targeted as Kurdish militia assert their control in Syria’s north-eastern city of Hassaka, a senior local Christian leader has said.

“Whenever the Kurdish militia enter in action to reaffirm its military hegemony over the city, the epicentre of their raids and acts of force is always the area of the six churches, where most of the Christians live,” Agenzia Fides this week quoted Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo as saying.

“In many cases they expelled the Christians from their homes under the threat of Kalashnikovs. And where they enter, they loot everything,” Hindo added, noting he had himself narrowly escaped a bullet to the head when shots were fired through his window.

Back in June, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II escaped an attack during the celebration of Pentecost in Qamishli, a town an hour and half’s drive northeast of Hassaka in an area largely controlled by Kurds.

Christians have fared worse in other parts of Syria. In areas under the sway of Islamic jihadists, including the ‘Islamic State’ (IS), Christians have all but disappeared from public view.

It is estimated that of the 1.8 million Christians living in Syria before the war, only 600,000 – 900,000 remain. The 1.8-million number was itself a downgrade from a historically more prominent Christian character the Levant once had.

In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, the number of Christians has dwindled from 250,000 to fewer than 40,000. The besieged city to the northwest has been on the front-line of fighting between the government, rebel forces and IS for much of the war.

According to Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, Syria ranks fifth among 50 countries where Christians face the most pressure.