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Thousands of Christians flee ISIS onslaught in Syria

Assyrians protesting in Lebanon after ISIS kidnapped 200 or so Christians. A number of them have now been freed (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

ISIS terrorists released 37 Syrian Christians over the weekend, part of a group of 200 Assyrians they kidnapped in February.

The Assyrian Human Rights Network posted pictures on its Facebook page of the newly freed civilians arriving in the predominantly ethnic Assyrian village of Tal Tamr, in the northeastern Hassakeh province. The photos show a woman kissing the hand of an elderly woman in tears, and a priest greeting the former captives in a church ceremony.

The group said in a statement that negotiations continue for the release of another 124 people who remain in captivity, according to AP news. Edmond Gabriel, chairman of the Assyrian Charitable Association in Hassakeh province, said 27 of the released are women. He said another group of captives was expected to be released today.

ISIS murdered three Assyrians in October but has previously released others through negotiations.

The release comes as thousands of Syrian Christians flee an ISIS onslaught on the Christian town of Sadad. The Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Homs, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that ISIS had been pushing at the town, 45 miles south of Homs, since October 31.

Maheen, a town located five miles from Sadad, has already fallen to the jihadi group. The archbishop also said that the inhabitants of Sadad and Al-Hafar had fled out of fear that the ISIS fighters would advance even further and to escape the heavy fire. According to the archbishop, almost 15,000 people have since left their homes and sought refuge in Homs, Zaidal and Fairouzeh.

He said that Sadad is still endangered, despite the presence of Syrian Army forces. “We are afraid that ISIS, which God will hopefully prevent, will conquer the town. We would lose the centre of Christianity in our diocese,” he said. Sadad had already been taken over by a rebel alliance that also included ISIS for a short time in October 2013. At that time, the jihadists killed 45 Christians, some of whom they buried in mass graves, and laid churches and houses to waste.

On Saturday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from an airstrike on an ISIS-controlled eastern city near the border with Iraq rose to 71. The group initially reported that the Thursday attack killed 25 people. At least six children were among the dead after the airstrike, carried out by Russian jets.