By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Aid workers remain concerned over dozens of mainly elderly Christians in north-west Syria, after Islamic militants overran a Christian town, killing some 80 people, and forcing thousands of local residents to flee.
At least 13 Christians were beheaded, churches were desecrated and homes looted, said the Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in heavily Islamic nations.
“Militants from the al-Qaeda-[terror group] linked al-Nusra Front [and groups] Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham attacked Kessab on the Turkish border early on Friday March 23,” Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife in a statement.
“Around 3,000 Armenian Christian residents fled for their lives, taking refuge in neighbouring Latakia and Bassit.”
However, “a dozen or so families with members too elderly to leave remained in Kessab and were subsequently taken hostage,” Barnabas Fund said. Of those who fed, some relatives were reportedly staying with relatives and and friends, but many Christians were seen sheltering in over-crowded church buildings.
Barnabas Fund said partners in Syria have been helping the displaced Christian families, “who fled empty-handed”.
The group explained that its workers are “are providing food, clothing, hygiene materials and other essentials.”
Following the Islamist takeover of Kessab, a strategically important town, the Syrian army launched a counter-offensive to regain control of the territory but fighting still continues, according to aid workers.
Kessab was the last border crossing with Turkey still in Syrian government hands. It had previously been relatively peaceful and was full of refugees who had fled violence in other parts of Syria, Barnabas Fund said.
Barnabas Fund expressed concern that Turkey, “which has sided with the rebels in the Syrian civil war” has provided access for fighters, money and supplies, and “allowed hundreds of Islamist militants to cross its border on Friday to attack Kessab”.
Christians have expressed concerns that Islamic militants have infiltrated what is known as the Free Syrian Army, an armed
structure with a wide variety of rebels.
Tensions between the Syrian government and Turkey intensified when the Turkish military shot down a Syrian fighter jet recently that crossed its border on during a battle over the town.
In published remarks the Armenian National Committee – International, which represents Armenian Christians, condemned the attacks on Kessab and Turkey’s role in them.
“For months, we have warned the international community of the imminent threat posed by extremist foreign fighters
against the Christian minority population in Syria.” The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has reportedly written to American President Barack Obama urging him to press NATO ally Turkey to stop “facilitating attacks by foreign fighters associated with US-designated terrorist groups.”
ANCA said Turkey’s actions were “a horrifying and bitter reminder” of the Armenian genocide. It recalled that between 1894 and 1923, more than 1.5 million Armenian and Assyrian Christians were killed by the Turkish forces. Turkey has denied there was an Armenian Genocide, saying many died of starvation and hunger. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
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