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Assyrian Militia Fights Its Own Battle Against Jihadists in Syria
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Beirut (EFE) -- Threatened by the presence of the Islamic State, IS, jihadist group in Syria, al-Hasakah Christians are standing up to the jihadists with a militia working with Kurdish forces to stop the advance of the Sunni radical group. The Syrian Military Council, MFS, is the main Christian rebel faction in the al-Hasakah province (northeast), composed of three battalions of 300 to 400 fighters (adding up to about a thousand troops), according to one of their commanders, Kino Gabriel, who talked to Efe via telephone. Since its launch in January 2013, council forces have battled against pro-regime troops and the al-Nusra Front (a subsidiary of al-Qaeda in Syria), and are now fighting against the IS. Gabriel said there are other Christian armed groups in the provinces of Hama (north) and Idleb (northwest), but explained that they are not very large. It is uncommon to find these Christian rebel militias in Syria, where Christians account for 9 percent of the population. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil conflict almost four years ago, the Christian community has been predominantly supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime and opposed to the armed opposition, dominated by Sunni rebels. Most members of the MFS are Assyrian Christians, an ethnic group mainly living in al-Hasakah, although Gabriel stressed that there were also some Kurds and Arabs in the region. Although they had already clashed against the IS, Assyrians have become this week the target of radicals who stormed many of their villages along the southern bank of the Khabur river and took more than two hundred people hostage. According to Gabriel, the IS attacked villages such as Tal Hurmuz and Tal Shamiram, both of which have an Assyrian-majority population, while under pressure from Kurdish and Christian forces, who had recently launched an offensive in al-Hasakah, in cooperation with the US-led international coalition. The jihadists "are suffering defeats on the Tal Hamis front, so they have opened a new front in the villages near the Khabur river to distract our attention," said the MFS commander. This week, the Christian militia suffered at least four casualties among its fighters, besides several combatants having gone missing. Gabriel argued that Christians are a target for extremists because, in his opinion, all of the country's minorities are being targeted by the radical organization. Still, the figures cited by the rebel commander suggest that the number of Assyrians kept hostage in the hands of radicals range between 250 and 400, which would make it the biggest mass kidnapping of Christians by this group and the second-largest of any minority, after the capture of 400 to 1,000 Yazidis in Iraq in August. According to Gabriel, the kidnapping of Assyrians may have been in retaliation for several clashes and attacks launched against the IS in the proximities of the Khabur river. To confront the jihadists, the Christian militia possesses only light and medium-grade weapons, plus a few armored vehicles. "Our main problem now is the inability to cross the Khabur river to attack them," said the militia group leader. The extremists have taken eight to ten villages south of the waterway, while the Kurds and their Christian allies remain on the northern side. Gabriel is confident that the Kurds and the MFS can defeat the IS: "We will be able to overcome our enemy." According to the Christian group, it is essential to receive military support from the international community, as well as obtaining heavy weaponry, to emerge victorious from the war against the Islamic State.

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