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Assyrian Forces Seek International Support After IS Offensive


On the Front Line of IS-Controlled Assyrian Christian Villages
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A police officer walks in the middle of Indonesian union workers protesting against a government tax amnesty, on their way to the presidential palace in Jakarta.

Local forces battling Islamic State militants in northeast Syria ask the international community for weapons "capable of changing the balance of power on the ground," as hundreds of the area's Assyrian residents remain missing after an Islamic State offensive.

A leader with the Syriac Military Council told VOA their coalition is holding ground against the Islamic State group with the help of Kurdish fighters.

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More Islamic State Coverage

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Speaking from the city of Qamishli, Kino Gabriel said Assyrian and Kurdish militias are in control of villages on the north bank of the Khabour river, while Islamic State militants swept through those to the south earlier this week.

"ISIS is making some positions for its forces inside those villages, I think they are moving (in) some ammunition and building some barricades," Gabriel said, referring to an acronym for the Islamist group.

Weapons, air support

The anti-Islamic State groups said they do not need more fighters, but increased weapons and air support.

According to the Syriac Military Council, also known as MFS, U.S. coalition warplanes struck three Islamic State positions Thursday around Khabour.

"I think the numbers (of fighters) we have fighting against ISIS is enough," said Gabriel, who is coordinating his forces with the Kurds from the northeastern city of Qamishli.

"Their will is very high, they are determined to defeat ISIS. Like I said, we just need equipment and some heavy machines and weapons in order to make and get the balance of power to our side to defeat ISIS," he added.

The Islamic State group has targeted religious minorities with kidnappings and killings during its spread across northern Iraq and Syria.

Mouhamed Khello, a spokesman for security forces in the Kurdish region of northern Syria known as Rojava, told VOA the Islamic State group “is trying to incite religious strife in the region" with its offensive against the Assyrian Christian villages.

The number of abductions in the primarily Assyrian Christian region of Khabour remains unclear, with militias and monitoring groups estimating 150 to 400 people are missing.

The MFS said Islamic State militants first imposed the "jizya," a tax on non-Muslims, on residents in Khabour, then removed crosses from churches.

In addition to those kidnapped in the province, activists said thousands more have fled from their homes to the main cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli.

US reaction

The United States has condemned the offensive. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Christians.

"The international community stands united and undeterred in its resolve to bring an end to (Islamic State's) depravity," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said late Wednesday.

In neighboring Iraq, Islamic State militants drew additional ire on Thursday, when video surfaced online with the Islamic State logo showing men using sledgehammers to destroy ancient artifacts and toppling statues in Iraq's northern city of Mosul.

Islamic State fighters have previously destroyed Christian and Muslim shrines, citing heresy as their motivation.

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, fell to Islamic State forces as they overran parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.

VOA's Kurdish service contributed to this report.