Beirut, Sep 4: At least 15 Syrian Christians who had been held by the Islamic State group in the central village of Al-Qaryatain were released today, monitoring groups said.
"A group of 15 Christians who had been under house arrest by IS in Al-Qaryatain were released and arrived in Fayrouzah," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. IS jihadists had taken at least 230 civilians hostage, including dozens of Christians, in the village in Syria's Homs province in early August.
The Assyrian Monitor from Human Rights confirmed that the 15 Christians had arrived in Fayrouzah, five kilometres (three miles) southeast of Homs city, on Friday afternoon. Citing a medical source, it said they "were in good health." According to Abdel Rahman, the group had been released after paying jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims.
Those released did not include Father Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic priest who was kidnapped from a monastery in Al-Qaryatain in May by unknown assailants but who is in IS custody, he said. A Vatican's news outlet, Agence Fides, said Mourad and other Christian Syrians were in a "stable" situation and that local religious figures were negotiating their release.
The release of the 15 Christians comes after news report that IS had signed a "dhimmi agreement" with Christians in the village, referring to the status of non-Muslims in the group's self-declared "caliphate."
IS supporters published a copy of this agreement online, praising the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for granting security to the Christian residents. But the agreement said their safety would only be guaranteed as long as they paid jizya and did not display any Christian symbols, a standard elements of such deals, or "take part in any acts hostile to the Islamic State." In March, IS jihadists freed 19 Assyrian Christians from the northeastern province of Hasake in exchange for a sum of money.