BEIRUT: The Islamic State group released 22 Assyrian Christians that it had abducted in northeastern Syria almost six months ago, activist groups said.
They were among more than 200 members of the Christian minority who were kidnapped by IS in February as it swept through the Khabur region in the northeastern Hasakeh province.
The Assyrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fate of the minority, said the 22 hostages included 14 women.
It published photographs of the former hostages, showing several elderly women weeping as they were greeted by a priest.
The release was “the result of the tireless efforts and negotiations by the Assyrian Church of the East in the city of Hasakeh,” the group said.
A second group, the Assyrian Network for Human Rights, also reported the release, saying those freed were from two villages in Khabur, Tal Shamiram and Tal Jazira.
Director Osama Edward said negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of the additional 187 hostages being held by IS.
“There is a positive atmosphere around the negotiation,” he told AFP, adding that no additional releases could be confirmed yet.
Assyrians numbered about 30,000 among Syria’s 1.2 million Christians before the country’s conflict began. They lived mostly in 35 villages in Hasakeh.
In February, IS overran many of the villages, but Kurdish forces later expelled the jihadists from all the places it had seized.
IS has captured hundreds of hostages, including Christians from different sects, in territory in Syria and Iraq.
More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.