Syrian bishop accuses Turkey over Syrian Christians

Syrian bishop accuses Turkey over Syrian Christians
Former music teacher Ibrahim Dawoud, now a Christian fighter with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, holds a shell fragment after he was wounded by what he said was shelling on his home in the ancient Christian quarter of Bab-Touma in Damascus January 27, 2015.

VATICAN CITY - A prominent bishop on Wednesday accused Turkey of preventing Christians from fleeing Syria while allowing jihadists responsible for their persecution to cross its border unchecked.

Jacques Behnan Hindo, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Hasakeh-Nisibi, made the claim on Vatican Radio, a day after the Islamic State (IS) group abducted at least 90 Assyrian Christians from villages which had been under the control of Kurdish forces.

"Every day, families are emigrating from Damascus by plane because of the blockade we have around us," the bishop said.

"In the north, Turkey allows through lorries, Daesh (IS) fighters, oil stolen from Syria, wheat and cotton: all of these can cross the border but nobody (from the Christian community) can pass over."

The abducted Christians were part of Syria's tiny Assyrian community, which is mostly based in Hasakeh province near the Turkish border.

There were just 30,000 Assyrians in Syria before the country's conflict erupted in March 2011.

At that point Syria had an estimated total Christian population of around 1.2 million people. Pope Francis is among those who have voiced fears the community could be decimated by mass emigration as a result of the conflict.

Control of Hasakeh is currently divided between Kurdish forces, who in some places patrol with regime troops, and IS fighters.

The bishop said he was hopeful the IS offensive which led to the kidnappings would soon be over "because the Kurds are gathering their forces to go and fight them."

The Kurdish forces have been backed by US-led airstrikes against IS targets.

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