Islamic State (Isis) has released 22 Assyrian hostages who have been held captive in Syria since February.
The Assyrian federation of Sweden reported that the hostages arrived in the Syrian provincial capital of al-Hassakah and have been assisted by church and aid organisations. They were part of a group of more than 200 people who were kidnapped by IS in February this year after a three-day assault on a chain of 10 Syrian villages.
"Their release gives us new hope that the remaining Assyrian hostages, most of them women and children, will also be free one day," says Afram Yakoub, chairman of the Assyrian federation of Sweden.
Last week, IS captured 250 Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic families after seizing the key town of Qaryatain, in the central Homs province, from forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad. Sources from A Demand for Action (ADFA), an organisation campaigning for Christian minorities in the country, said that 300 families managed to flee from the area.
Nuri Kino, founder of ADFA, told IBTimes UK that 1,500 people who had fled Qaryatain arrived in Homs, where the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese has launched a desperate appeal for water, food and medicine.
Kino said he spoke with two refugees who have family members missing and they were screaming "When will these atrocities against us stop?"
"We are obviously asking IS to release these innocent people, but we're losing hope given what happened before in Syria," Kino said. "Around 222 people are kidnapped and we don't know anything about their whereabouts."
The kidnapping was confirmed by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported that 230 civilians from the town, including "dozens of Christians, 45 women, 19 children and 11 families", were abducted by IS.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that those abducted were wanted by the extremist group for "collaborating with the regime", and that included at least 60 Christians.
Their names were on a list used by the jihadists as they raided the town. Those who tried to flee were quickly tracked down and abducted.
Some of the Assyrians were taken from the Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery, where priest Jacques Mourad was abducted in May. Mourad was known to help both Christians and Muslims and was preparing aid for the arrival of hundreds of refugees from Palmyra.
The jihadist group captured Qaryatain, which lies south west of Palmyra Roman ruins and 85km from Homs, after heavy clashes with regime forces. The Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans, are an ancient ethnic group belonging to the Syriac Christianity and speaking Aramaic.