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Hundreds of Christians Fear IS Attack, Flee Syrian Town

In this photo from the Islamic State-affiliated Rased News Network, Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers in Qaryatain, Syria, Aug. 7, 2015; a banner in the mosque read, "Friday prayers after the conquest of Qaryatain," which occurred Aug. 6.

Scores of Christian families have fled a Syrian town amid fears that Islamic State militants are advancing toward it and plan a major offensive, activists said Saturday.

Osama Edward, director of the Christian Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, said “hundreds of families” have fled the central Christian town of Sadad for the government-held central city of Homs and the capital, Damascus.

“People are living in fear in the area,” Edward said. "Many Christians around Sadad fear that what happened to ethnic Yazidis in Iraq and other Christians in Islamic State-controlled territory could happen to them — choosing between fleeing, converting to Islam or facing death,” Edward said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed heavy fighting in an area between the central town of Qaryatain and the village of Mheen, which is halfway to Sadad.

About 10 percent of Syria's prewar population of 23 million people was Christian.

August 8 was the first anniversary of the beginning of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq, because of its threat to the Yazidis. Islamic State militants killed hundreds, possibly thousands of Yazidi men. Hundreds more are thought to have died in the chaotic flight from Islamic State.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted nearly 6,000 airstrikes against Islamic State forces and has expanded its operations to target extremists in Syria.

However, a year later, Islamic State is able to launch attacks across its self-declared “caliphate” in both Iraq and Syria, despite some gains by Kurdish fighters and allied Iraqi forces.

VOA’s Kurdish service contributed to this report.

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