Christian, Kurdish soldiers unite to push back Isis

Islamic State (IS) forces have been driven back in northeastern Syria.

Kurdish and Assyrian Christian troops have taken control of the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tal Tamar in the province of Hassakeh, bordering Turkey and Iraq. IS militants had in February used the mountain as a base for their seizure of villages along the Khabur River.

Kurdish commanders from the People’s Protection Unit and Christian ones from the Syriac Military Council say U.S.-led airstrikes enabled their units to regain control over several villages and seize large caches of IS arms and ammunition.

Fr Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Programme Northern Iraq, said “This is very happy news”. Confirming that “all the villages along the Khabur River have been liberated”, he said, “Father Bakos returned to Tal Tamar and rang the church bell to celebrate”.

Adding that other priests had done likewise, he warned against villagers returning home too quickly because the militants had left mines left behind, reassuring them that a clean-up operation was underway.

IS’s setbacks in the north east stand in sharp contrast to the militants’ first ever direct capture of a city from Syrian government forces.

Strategically important, Palmyra is home to government army bases and lies on a highway linking Damascus with Syria’s largely IS-controlled eastern provinces. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the country’s head of antiquities, has urged the world to save the city’s 2,000-year-old archaeological remains from destruction. Hundreds, including children, are believed to have been killed in the city since its capture.