ISIS is expected to execute 180 Assyrian Christians kidnapped as a part of an ethnic-cleansing campaign, international monitors report.
The terrorist group “has specifically targeted Assyrians, looking to drive them out of their millennia-old communities,” according to the Christian Post. Reuters reports that the captives were taken from northeastern Syria in February, and that three of them were executed last month in conjunction with an Islamic holiday. Negotiations intended to secure their release for a ransom have been “suspended due to [ISIS’s] unbearable demands,” Assyrian Human Rights Network executive director Osama Edward said.
The news comes about two weeks after Russia began bombing actions in Syria to assist Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime. Though the Kremlin claims the campaign is intended to fight terrorism in the country, Russian jets appear to be targeting the U.S.-backed anti-Assad rebels instead of ISIS. For months, the Obama administration has been bombing ISIS while calling for Assad’s departure from power, so Russia’s actions put the two nations at cross-purposes in Syria.
On Sunday, Russian president Vladimir Putin mocked President Obama’s efforts to bolster the Free Syrian Army (FSA). “It would have been better to give us $500 million,” Putin said. “At least we would have used it more effectively from the point of view of fighting international terrorism.”
#share#U.S. officials have faulted Putin for targeting the FSA in an effort to prop up Assad, rather than focusing on ISIS. “It is one thing, obviously, to be targeting [ISIS],” Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month. “We are concerned, obviously, that is not what’s happening.”
Whether targeting the FSA or ISIS, Putin can reap domestic political benefits from backing Assad. “The fight against terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world in this fight,” Russian Orthodox church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said in support of the intervention. “And this isn’t because we have a self-interest in this battle, but because terrorism is immoral.
#related#The U.S.-made anti-tank missiles given to the FSA have proven useful in destroying Russian tanks that were provided to Assad’s military, however, raising the specter of a “proxy war” between the former Cold War foes. “It’s a proxy war by happenstance,” Jeff White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the Washington Post. “The rebels happen to have a lot of [anti-tank missiles] in their inventory. The regime happened to attack them with Russian support. I don’t see it as a proxy war by decision.”
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled the country over the last several years, as the civil war threatens to destroy one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. “What future is left for the Church?” Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III wrote last month in a plea for Christians to stay in Syria. “What will become of our homeland? What will become of our parishes and institutions?”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.