Syrian Kurds cut ISIL supply line near Iraq; fears for Christians mount
AP PhotoKurdish militia pressed a big offensive against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northeast Syria Feb. 25, cutting one of its supply lines from Iraq, as fears mounted for dozens of Christians abducted by the hardline group that recently beheaded 21 Egyptian Copts.
The new Kurdish offensive launched at the weekend was focused on dislodging ISIL from areas some 100 kilometer further to the east, including Tel Hamis, a town that is one of its strongholds.
The Observatory said at least 132 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the fighting since Feb. 21. Mahmoud, the Kurdish official, said seven members of the Kurdish YPG militia had been killed, including one foreigner.
In a telephone interview from the city of Qamishli, he said the YPG had cut a main road linking Tel Hamis with al-Houl, a town just a few kilometres from the Iraqi border.
“This is the main artery for Daesh,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. The Kurdish YPG militia had seized more than 100 villages from Islamic State in the area, he added.
“We believe we will finish the battle of Tel Hamis in this campaign,” he added.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, last month drove ISIL from the Syrian town of Kobane, since when further signs of strain have been seen in the group’s ranks.
The Syriac National Council of Syria says ISIL seized 150 Assyrian Christians from villages in Hassakeh province in a mass abduction coinciding with the offensive in the same region by Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes.
The Assyrian Christians were taken from villages near the town of Tel Tamr, some 20 kilometers to the northwest of the city of Hassakeh. There has been no word on their fate. There have been conflicting reports on where the Christians had been taken.
“These were peaceful villages that had nothing to do with the battles,” said Nasir Haj Mahmoud, a Kurdish official in the YPG militia in northeastern Syria, speaking by telephone from the city of Qamishli.
Hundreds more Christians have fled to the two main cities in Hassakeh province, according to the Syriac council and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is tracking the conflict.
ISIL has killed members of religious minorities and Sunni Muslims who do not swear allegiance to its self-declared “caliphate.” The group last week released a video showing its members beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
The abductions in Syria follow advances by Kurdish forces against ISIL in areas of the northeast near the Iraqi border - an area of vital importance to the group as one of the bridges between land it controls in Iraq and Syria.
“They want to show themselves strong, playing on the religion string, at a time when they are being hit hard,” said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Observatory, speaking by telephone.