Syrian Allied Forces Take Back Christian Town of al-Qaryatain from ISIS

(Photo : Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/CC) Syrian allied forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, recaptured al-Qaryatain from ISIS after days of intense battle.

Syrian Christian town of al-Qaryatain has been taken back from Islamic State, following a few days of intense battle between the militant nation and the Syrian troops aided by Russian airstrikes, according to reports.

The town was surrounded by the Syrian allied forces, which drove ISIS out of the town on Sunday, according to media reports.

Over 40 air strikes by Russian and Syrian air force had targeted key areas near the al-Qaryatain, a Britain-based Observatory said.

A vast majority of the town is under government control, but the IS militants were still fighting in the western outskirts of the town, according to RIA Novosti.

The Syrian army said that government is using heavy artillery to obliterate IS from the town, and that militants were taking cars to flee to the north.

The Syrian national television said that the anti-Daesh (anti-ISIS) forces had "fully restored security and stability to the town after killing the last remaining groups of Daesh terrorists."

Syria had been trying to reclaim control over al-Qaryatain to prevent ISIS' further advance towards the capital Damascus and other major cities.

al-Qaryatain is about 60 miles west of city of Palmyra which was recaptured by the Syrian allied forces from Islamic State about a week ago.

The loss of al-Qaryatain is a major strategic setback to the IS, as the town was close to Damascus-Homs highway.

ISIS had seized al-Qaryatain in August last year, and took 200 Christians as captives. They were given an option to convert to Islam or pay a non-Muslim tax of "jizya."

A Syrian priest Fr Jack Murad and his volunteer were held by IS militants for about 84 days in the mountains around al-Qaryatain and at many different places.

Fr Jack told the BBC that the ISIS militants were curious about his Christian faith.

"They would ask about my theology - God, the Holy Trinity, Christ, and the Crucifixion," he said.

He thought there was no need to answer them.

"What's the point of debating with someone who's put you in prison and pointing their rifle at you?" said Fr Jack. "When I was forced to respond, I'd say 'I'm not prepared to change my religion'."

They were threatened with execution, but were later released.

The militants had razed Mar Elian Christian monastery, from where the priest was abducted, to the ground with bulldozers.

Tags al-Qaryatain, Syria, Islamic State (ISIS)

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