As anti-Islamic State (IS) forces continue their operations to recapture Iraq’s second city of Mosul, Christians from towns around it have welcomed the retaking of their two-years’ deserted homes.

According to sources monitoring the situation on the ground, Bartella, a town with a significant Christian presence prior to the IS invasion, was back in Iraqi government hands on Thursday (20 Oct.).

The town, located 21km east of Mosul, has yet to be cleared of mines and other explosives.

According to Almasdar News, Bartella had a pre-IS population of 30,000. It had a Christian Assyrian majority before mass migration by Kurds, and others, made Assyrians a minority in 2003.

Meanwhile, the battle continues for Qaraqosh (32km southeast of Mosul), a town that was once home to Iraq’s largest Christian community, considered one of the oldest in the world.

On Tuesday (18 Oct.), displaced Christians in nearby Erbil held a vigil, cheering and dancing, but their jubilation may be premature.

Several towns from which Christians have been displaced since the summer of 2014 are yet to be freed, while an influx of new refugees from areas currently being clawed back from IS could further irreversibly change the demography of an area once seen as the last stronghold of ancient Christianity around Iraq’s north-eastern Nineveh Plains.

Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province, formerly home to the largest concentration of Christians and other ethno-religious minorities left in Iraq.