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ICC Note: A series of Assyrian villages that were captured by ISIS militants during raids in February have been recaptured by Kurdish and Assyrian forces. Church leaders have returned, but demining operations are still under before they will encourage residents to return. Many of the more than 200 who were abducted remain in ISIS control.

05/22/2015 Syria (Christian Today) The Assyrian Christian villages raided and inhabited by Islamic State militants in February have now been retaken by Kurdish forces, local clergy have confirmed.

“All the villages along the Khabour River have been liberated,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service. He leads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, which is working to support Syrian Christians displaced by ISIS. “This is very happy news,” he added.

According to Father Youkhana, clergy have already begun returning to their villages. Father Bakos, of Tal Tamar village, “rang the church bell to celebrate,” he said, though urged villagers not to follow suit too quickly because Kurdish forces were still removing mines left by the jihadists.

According to A Demand For Action (ADFA), 232 Assyrians are still missing from the dawn raids on February 23, abducted by IS militants, though some hostages have been released. Father Youkhana said those that remain in captivity are thought to be being treated well however, and another Catholic priest based in Jordan, Father Rifat Bader, expressed a hope that they would be returned safely soon.

“It’s a sad and complicated situation,” he told CNS. “You don’t know how they will be used.”

Assyrian Christians have faced significant persecution during ISIS’ rise to prominence. Some 3,000 were forced to flee from the Khabour region, and in March, militants bulldozed the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Hatra, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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