LONDON - At least 21 Christians were killed by Islamic State fighters in the Syrian city of Al-Qaryatain before it was retaken last week by regime and allied troops backed by Russian air support, the BBC reported on Monday. The head of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, told the BBC that some had been killed as they were trying to escape and others when they broke the terms of their ''dhimmi contracts'', which which require them to submit to the rule of Islam.
The city had been retaken early last week. The patriarch said that almost 300 Christians had remained in the city after it was taken by ISIS in August 2015. Some managed to escape while others died trying and others - the patriarch said based on accounts from people in the city - had been killed for refusing the rules of their ''dhimmi contracts'', which impose restrictions and require them to pay a tax in exchange for ''protection''. The patriarch said that at least three women were among those killed and noted that warnings had come that ISIS planned to sell Christian girls into slavery.
Some Christians are currently missing and feared dead. Al-Qaryatayn has in the months since it was taken by ISIS suffered serious damage, including the destruction of a 1,500-year-old Christian monastery.
Syrian regime 'open to peace talks without pre-conditions' on Assad's future role
BEIRUT - Syria on Monday reiterated its position of being open to talks with opposition groups ''without pre-conditions'', Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said in receiving UN envoy Staffan De Mistura in Damascus on Monday.
An upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva aimed at ending the country's five-year war is scheduled to resume this week. The talks are expected to resume following an initial round last month in the Swiss city in which the parties involved spoke individually to De Mistura but without direct contact between them. The UN envoy last week expressed the hope that the latest round would concentrate on the beginning of an actual political transition.
The central issue remains the role that President Bashar Al-Assad will have in the transition, with opposition groups demanding that he leave and the government refusing to discuss the matter. ''Al-Moallem affirmed that the Syrian people are confident in their right to decide their future and the inevitability of their victory over ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and, other terrorist organizations which continue to breach the cessation of hostilities agreement under directives from their sponsors in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and others,'' the government-run news agency SANA reported. .