SHAFAQNA – After ISIS militants this Thursday raided and plundered a monastery in the central province of Homs, Syria’s military mobilized additional forces to free dozens of Christian captives.
The Wahhabi-inspired militias have systematically targeted religious minorities in Syria, on account their radical clerics have labelled all religious denominations an apostasy against their own violent and reactionary interpretation of Islam. Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims, Alawis, Christians, Yazidis and moderate Sunnis have suffered by the hands of ISIS, forced to flee their homes and endured heartbreaking humiliations.
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has vowed to protect all Syrians, regardless of their faith, in keeping with true Islamic tradition.
ISIS militants used bulldozers to raze the monastery in the town of Qaryatain, which they had captured in early August, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Government warplanes were still pounding the area with air strikes two weeks after Islamic State took the town, the monitor said.
Qaryatain is near a road linking the ancient Roman city of Palmyra to the Qalamoun mountains, along the border with Lebanon.
The hardline militant group has been gaining ground in the desert areas east and south of Homs after it took over Palmyra last May, emboldened have said sources by Turkey’s covert support. Turkey has long been accused of colluding with ISIS to advance its own hegemonic ambitions in the region.
Despite mounting proof that Turkish President Recep Erdogan has actively supported ISIS – militarily and financially, western capitals have lauded Ankara’s efforts against terror, arguing Turkey has proven a invaluable ally of the NATO alliance.
Meanwhile the Syrian army has launched a large-scale counteroffensive to recapture the city, which lies in a region where some of Syria’s largest gas fields are located, but so far it has made no significant advances.
Islamic State militants captured 230 people including dozens of Christian families after taking Qaryatain, the monitor reported at the time.
Of those captured, 48 had been released and 110 were transferred to Raqqa province, whose capital city Raqqa is the militants’ Syria stronghold, the monitor said on Thursday.
The Christians would be given the choice of conversion to Islam or paying “jizya”, a tax on non-Muslims, the monitor said, citing “informed sources.”
The fate of the remaining 70 people captured after the seizure of Qaryatain was unclear.
Among them were 45 women and 19 children, including 11 families, some of whom were on a militants’ wanted list, said the monitor, which tracks the violence of Syria’s civil war through an extensive network of sources on the ground.