More than two dozen Assyrian Christians have been released by ISIS today, it has emerged, in what has been called a "glorious Christmas gift" by a Christian group working in the region.
The Assyrian Church of the East in Syria today secured the released of 25 Christians who have been held hostage by Islamic State militants since February. The group, comprised of two men, seven women and 16 children aged between two and 11, and were greeted by the Bishop of Syria and chairman of the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation (ACERO), His Grace Mar Afram Athneil.
"On this holy day of the Nativity of our Lord we lift up honour and praise to Almighty God for hearing our prayers and blessing us with this Christmas miracle," ACERO said in a statement today.
The hostages were among more than 200 people abducted from villages along the Khabour River in northern Syria earlier this year.
ISIS have now released more than 135 hostages in total, and negotiations are continuing to secure the freedom of those who remain, believed to number 105.
A Demand for Action, a campaign group for minorities in the Middle East, previously told Christian Today that the Church is working "day and night to make sure all are returned to their families safely".
"We continue to expend all our resources and efforts through this holy season for the safety and freedom of all remaining hostages," ACERO said today.
"We will not cease until we return them to their families."
In October, militants released a video showing the execution three of the hostages, and threatened to murder those still in captivity if a multi-million dollar ransom was not paid.
Initially, ISIS demanded a ransom fee of around $100,000 per hostage, totalling $23 million. When it became clear that the Assyrian community could not afford it, the amount was lowered to between $12-$14 million.