ISIS under fire in region where Christians abducted

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An unverified photo posted online by ISIS purportedly shows one of the group’s militants manning a position during clashes near the village of Tel Tamr, in Syria’s northeast Hassakeh province.
BEIRUT — Fierce fighting between Kurdish and Christian militiamen and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants is continuing in northeastern Syria where the extremist group recently abducted at least 70 Christians.

Hassakeh province, which borders Turkey and Iraq, has become a significant battleground in the fight against ISIS. The group overran a cluster of villages nestled along the Khabur River on Monday, seizing dozens of Christians, many of them women and children.

Thousands of others fled to safer areas.

The fate of those kidnapped was still unclear Wednesday, two days after they were seized, but one activist group in the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ defacto capital, said they had been brought there.The group, which calls itself “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered in Silence,” said on their blog that ISIS fighters had brought the Assyrian hostages to the city, hostages to the city of Raqqa, about 150 miles southwest of Hassakeh.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Christian group called the Syriac Military Council said heavy clashes pitting Christian fighters and other groups against ISIS militants in Hassakeh were continuing.

ISIS has come under increasing pressure in the area in recent days, with Syrian President Bashar Assad sending additional state forces to the front lines and Kurdish fighters and rival rebel groups also squeezing the militants.

The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday that coalition forces had attacked ISIS targets in Hassakeh province within the last 24 hours.

Among the nine airstrikes carried out inside Syria, three struck an ISIS vehicle in the region where the Assyrians were abducted. The Pentagon did not provide any details on who was believed to have been traveling in the vehicle at the time.