Islamic State fighters release elderly Christian hostage in north-eastern Syria but intense fighting displaces Christians in Aleppo
Syria, 25 June, 2015: Four months after he was taken captive by Islamic State (IS) fighters in north-eastern Syria, 70-year-old Francois Sawa was safely released on 16 June and is in good health. In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, Christian families are fleeing their homes after horrific fighting killed at least ten people, most of them children, and injured a further 150 on 15 June.
Just a few days later, two Armenian Christian men were also tragically killed in a mortar explosion in Aleppo on 20 June. One of the men who died was a visiting pastor from Armenia who had arrived only two days earlier. “All our congregation members are in agony,” said Dr Jany Haddad, Barnabas Fund’s partner on the ground in Syria, as he relayed the news.
With fighting coming from four fronts, thousands of Christians have fled the city in terror. Local Christians told Barnabas that there are now between 45,000 and 90,000 Christians living in Aleppo, down from an estimated 465,000 in 2010. At least 30 people were killed and many others injured only in the last week in Aleppo with bombing and shelling occurring almost daily. The situation across Syria is one of extreme concern; IS forces have again attacked parts of the north-eastern city of Hassake as well as the northern city of Kobane on Thursday (25 June).
The release of Francois Sawa puts the number of those still being held at 227. One of 253 Christians abducted in IS raids against the mainly Christian villages that are clustered around the Khabur river, Francois Sawa was taken from his home village of Tel Shamiram on 23 February. Little has been heard about the situation of the Christians who remain hostage to IS. Twenty-three of the captives were released at the beginning of March and two elderly women were freed on 25 May.
Despite the fact that IS militants have been forced out of the villages in the Khabur area, the area remains unsafe. Islamists have destroyed many of the homes and churches and some have been booby-trapped. Barnabas has been helping to care for 1,200 Christian families who were forced to flee their homes after IS raided the villages.
But the situation for Christians in Syria is extremely precarious. Kidnappings such as the ones that took place in the Khabur area villages have led many Christians to decide to leave their beloved country in search of safety abroad.
Barnabas Fund is working with the Polish government, the Polish charity Esther Foundation, and local Polish churches to rescue Syrian Christians in extreme danger. Through our Operation Safe Havens, we are flying them to Poland and paying for their basic needs for one year, while Polish churches welcome them, and help them to find accommodation and jobs.