The U.S.-led coalition is carrying out more air strikes on the Islamic State’s positions in Syria and Iraq. In Homs province, ISIS is said to be holding more than 200 residents captive, most of which are believed to be from Christian families, including dozens of women and children. For more on the conflict and kidnappings, New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Turkey.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:
The U.S.-led coalition is carrying out more airstrikes on the Islamic State, or ISIS, positions in Syria and Iraq. 19 strikes were carried out on Friday, according to Command Joint Task Force.
In the central Syrian city of Qaryatain in Homs province, ISIS is said to be holding more than 200 residents captive. Most of the civilians are believed to be from Christian families, including dozens of women and children. The British human rights group Syrian Observatory for human rights says ISIS seized the city of 40,000 people after three separate suicide attacks on checkpoints guarded by army forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"New York Times" reporter Ben Hubbard joins me now via Skype from Gaziantep, Turkey, with the latest on the conflict and the kidnappings.
So, we have a couple of hundred people that are essentially missing right now. Any word on what's happening to any — the women or children? I mean, ISIS has patterns of taking these people in the past.
BEN HUBBARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Well, the picture is still very unclear. I mean, this town is very far away and we've had everybody watching this and just said the communications are completely gone with the towns. It's very hard to get good information. You have had a lot of people fleeing from the towns to other areas. There's been fighting in other communities that are somewhat nearby.
So, you know — but what we know is that there are somewhere around 200, 230 people that are just out of contact so this has raised a lot of worries with the Syrian Orthodox Church and with other conflict monitors. This is one of a town that has a substantial Christian population. And nobody really knows what's happening with them.
I mean, there were reports yesterday that some had been actually arrested and detained and others were put under a form of house arrest where the jihadists were making them stay in their homes. I mean, this could because there was some kind of resistance in the town when they were coming in and the Islamic State is looking to try to find out who are the fighters and who are the civilians or this could just be in other times they kidnapped large numbers of people and used them for negotiations things like that.
In Syria, at least, ISIS has not carried out mass killings of Christians. I mean, they certainly will kill many Shiites or people from the Alawite sect and other sects that they get their hands.
But we don't have large cases of ISIS massacring Christians as we've seen ISIS branches in other countries and stuff. But a lot of times they — you know, they'll keep these people and try to use them in prisoner swaps, they'll try to use them to put pressure on the government. But, so far, we have just no information about — you know, very little information about the fate of these people and what they intend to do with them.
So, why is this town geographically significant?
Well, it is kind of a crossroads town. I mean, it's a small town, but it just puts ISIS one step closer to some other key places that are still under control of the Syrian government. So, this puts them closer to the city of Homs, which was a big — you know, battle zone between the opposition that the government actually won.
And so, this puts is now one step closer to that. It puts ISIS one step closer to some key highways as well that connect Homs to Damascus and that connects to other parts of the country.
So, this town itself isn't, I wouldn't say, that strategic but it puts them one step closer to some other places where they may be able to cause more trouble.
All right. Ben Hubbard of "The New York Times" joining us live from Gaziantep, Turkey — thanks so much.