Islamic State (IS) militants freed a group of 25 Christians from Syria’s north-eastern Khabur river area on the morning of 25 December, a Christmas miracle. However, just five days later 13 Christians were killed when jihadists bombed three Christian-run restaurants in northern Syria.
The 25 freed Christians had been held for ten months. They form part of a larger group of 253 believers who were captured when jihadists raided their villages last February. Some of the group have been released in small groups and this latest group consisted of two men, seven women and 16 children aged between three and eleven.
Barnabas Fund is caring for the newly released hostages and providing for their basic needs. To date, 145 have now been released but 105 of the group continue to be held and militants executed three of the men in the group last September.
IS has claimed responsibility for the blasts on 30 December in which a total of 16 people were killed and around 35 wounded when militants targeted two Christian-run restaurants in a mainly Christian area in the centre of Qamishli, a city close to the Turkish border, and a third in a predominantly Christian part of western Qamishli.
“People were making their preparations to celebrate this [New Year’s] Eve, but they were shocked with the brutal attacks that killed and wounded dozens of civilians,” said local church leader Touni Hannah. “We hope the year 2016 would bring peace to Syria and the region after years of bloodshed.”
The first two establishments hit were the Miami and Gabriel restaurants, quickly followed by an attack at the Youth Restaurant. Broken glass and blood covered the ground inside. It is known that at least one of the attackers was a suicide-bomber, and suspected that the others may also have been targeted by suicide-attackers.
The day after the attacks, IS acknowledged responsibility and supporters of the group began posting statements of responsibility on social media.
Christians in Qamishli held a funeral on 31 December for the 13 believers killed. They were identified as: Ramy Tarzi Bashi, Aboud Hagiki, Robert Krio, Eli Kaspo, Issa Hanna, Anton Joseph, Eliamo Malke, Nedal Abdo, Marwan Shamoun, Danny Hanna, Shabo Malke, Jack Tuma, and Robert Hegame.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a total of 55,219 people lost their lives in the Syrian conflict in 2015, including more than 2,500 children. Over 260,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011.