Released Assyrian IS hostage: 'There is nothing left' to return home to

Kurdish People's Protection forces guarding the Assyrian village of Tel Jumaa, north of Tel Tamr town, February 25, 2015. Islamic State militants have attacked a number of villages around Tel Tamr to try to gain control of this strategic town.Reuters

Islamic State (IS) have begun a campaign of attacks on around 30 Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria in recent weeks, and kidnapped more than 200 people in February.

One of the few IS hostages to have been released by the militants has said in an interview with the Times that although he knows he is lucky to be alive, he cannot return home.

Peter, who is originally from Tel Goran village in Al-Hasakah province, was one of 21 people captured from his village on 23 February, when several villages were attacked

"There is nothing left, no houses, so we will go to Beirut," Peter said. "Tel Goran is gone, all of it is burnt. How can we go back?"

Other accounts suggest that they were told by the militants that they should leave the country and would face death if they returned to their homes.

On the day they were abducted, the militants came to the village before dawn while most people were asleep, Peter said. "Some of them were Syrians, some were Chinese, some Russian — people who didn't speak Arabic," Peter said. "They took 17 men, three women and one young girl and put us on the back of pick-up trucks with our heads covered. We don't know why they took us — we didn't do anything."

As they were being taken away they saw the militants setting fire to their homes.

Along with the others from his village, Peter was tried in a Sharia court and later released. They were told they could leave because they were non-combatants. According to the Times, a Sunni tribal leader negotiated their release.

At the end of last week there were rumours that the other 200 or more kidnapped had also been released. It proved untrue, and the weekend saw further assaults on villages in the region.

On Saturday heavy mortar attacks from IS began around dawn, with counter attacks from Kurdish and Assyrian forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that dozens were killed on both sides in the clashes.

The villages under siege, including Tel Nasri, Tel Mkhaz, Tel Mazas, Tel Ruqba, and Tel Hufyan, are also situated on the Khabur river in Al-Hasakah province.

Targeting these villages is part of IS' strategy to gain control of Tal Tamr, which has one of the major bridges across the river. It would mark a significant territorial gain for IS as it acts as a gateway to other areas already under their control in Iraq.

"If ISIS wants to go east toward the Iraqi border, the only corridor they have is that bridge [in Tal Tamr.] Of course, they don't mind cleaning the area of Assyrians while they're at it," Osama Edwards, the director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights told the Wall Street Journal.

A Demand For Action, who campaign for minority communities in Iraq and Syria, said that in total more than 30 people have been martyred and others are still trying to fight IS.

Speaking of those still held by IS, they said: "Two weeks have gone. [More than] 200 children, women and men remain kidnapped. Two weeks, and their fate still remains unknown. We plead with the international community and the media to not forget them."