Islamic State group kidnaps 230 Syrian civilians
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The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has abducted 230 civilians, including at least 60 Christians, in a central Syrian town known as a symbol of religious coexistence, a monitoring group said Friday.
"Daesh kidnapped at least 230 people, including at least 60 Christians, during a sweep through Al-Qaryatain," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, using another name for IS.
Amnesty International condemned the abductions as highlighting the suffering of civilians in the more than four-year-old Syrian conflict that has cost over 240,000 lives.
"The abhorrent abduction in Syria of more than 200 people by Islamic State highlights the dreadful plight of civilians caught up in the conflict in the country," said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty's Syria researcher.
"The group must respect the rules of war and immediately release these civilians unharmed."
Bishop Matta al-Khoury, secretary at the Syriac Orthodox patriarchate in Damascus, told AFP he could not confirm what had happened in the town "because it's very hard to reach residents now".
"But we know that when IS entered the town, it forced some people into house arrest... to use them as human shields" against regime air strikes, Khoury said, urging IS to let the families leave the city.
The Assyrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were some 100 Syriac Christian families being detained in their homes by IS.
Al-Qaryatain lies at the crossroads between IS territory in the eastern countryside of Homs and areas further west in the Qalamun area.
It had a pre-war population of 18,000, including Sunni Muslims and around 2,000 Syriac Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
A Syrian Christian who lives in Damascus but is originally from Al-Qaryatain told AFP the town's Christian population had dropped to only 300.
And he stressed that Christians and Muslims coexisted peacefully in the town.
According to Al-Khoury, only 180 Christians were left in Al-Qaryatain by Thursday night.
Abdel Rahman told AFP that those abducted were wanted by IS for "collaborating with the regime," and their names were on a list used by the jihadists as they swept through the town.
They included Christians who had fled Aleppo province to the north in search of safety in Al-Qaryatain.
Families who tried to flee or hide were tracked down and taken by the jihadists, he said.
As IS continued its advance on the nearby villages of Sadad, Wahmin, and Houranin, hundreds of Christians began fleeing towards the provincial capital of Homs province, Abdel Rahman added.
In May, masked men abducted Syrian priest Jacques Mourad from the Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery in Al-Qaryatain, near the IS-held ancient city of Palmyra.
Mourad, who was known to help both Christians and Muslims, was preparing aid for an influx of refugees from Palmyra.
In late February, IS jihadists abducted 220 Assyrian Christians from villages in Syria's northeastern province of Hasakeh. At least 19 were released when ransoms were paid.