The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilians were taken yesterday in the town of Al-Qaryatain, which IS jihadists had captured late Wednesday. "Daesh kidnapped at least 230 people, including at least 60 Christians, during a sweep through Al-Qaryatain," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman cited, using another name for IS.

Many of the Christians had fled from Aleppo province, in Syria's north, to seek refuge in Al-Qaryatain. He said those abducted were wanted by IS for 'collaborating with the regime', and their names were on a list used by the jihadists as they swept through the town. Families who tried to flee or hide were tracked down and taken by the jihadists, Rahman stated. Al-Qaryatain lies at the crossroads between IS territory in the eastern countryside of Homs and areas further west in the Qalamun area.

It had a pre-war population of 18,000, including Sunni Muslims and around 2,000 Syriac Catholics and Orthodox Christians. According to a Syrian Christian who lives in Damascus but is originally from Al-Qaryatain, the town's Christian population has dropped to only 300.

In May, masked men abducted Syrian priest Jacques Mourad from the Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery in Al-Qaryatain, near the IS-captured ancient city of Palmyra. Mourad, who was known to help both Christians and Muslims, was preparing aid for an influx of refugees from Palmyra.

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