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Activists: Outreach made to IS over Christian captives

Assyrian rights groups and local tribal leaders reportedly making headway in recovering 220 abductees

Assyrian Christians, who fled the unrest in Syria and Iraq, attend a prayer for the 220 Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State jihadists from villages in northeastern Syria in recent days, at the Saint Georges Assyrian Church in Jdeideh, northeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 26, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Anwar Amro)
Assyrian Christians, who fled the unrest in Syria and Iraq, attend a prayer for the 220 Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State jihadists from villages in northeastern Syria in recent days, at the Saint Georges Assyrian Church in Jdeideh, northeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 26, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Anwar Amro)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian Christian leaders and Sunni tribal sheikhs are reaching out to the Islamic State group to try to negotiate the release of more than 220 Christians who were kidnapped by the militants last week, activists said Sunday.

Islamic State fighters swept through a string of villages along the Khabur River in Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh province last week, pulling families from their homes before transporting them to a nearby IS stronghold. The fate of the captives, most of them Christian Assyrians, remains unknown.

“We’re trying to contact any party that might help. We’re working through our friends the tribal sheikhs,” said Younan Talia, a senior official in the Assyrian Democratic Organization. “Some friends of Daesh are trying to send messages.”

Talia said there has been no response yet. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Sweden-based director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, Osama Edward, also said efforts were under way to try to negotiate the captives’ release.

The Assyrians are indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.

The abductions have added to fears among religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq, who have been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State group.

During the militants’ bloody campaign in both countries, where they have declared a self-styled caliphate, minorities have been repeatedly targeted and killed, driven from their homes, had their women enslaved and places of worship destroyed.

The abductions coincided with an offensive by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, against IS some 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the east near the Iraqi border.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurds burned the homes of some IS members or local fighters in Tel Hamees. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, cited residents.

YPG spokesman Redur Khalil denied the allegations, calling them “lies designed to aid the victory of terrorism” and “smear the reputation” of the Kurds.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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