Syrian and allied forces backed by Russian air strikes drove Islamic State militants out of the Christian town of al Qaryatain on Sunday after encircling it over the past few days, Syria’s military command said. Surrounded by hills, al-Qaryatain is 100 km (60 miles) west of the ancient city of Palmyra, which government forces recaptured from Islamic State last Sunday. Al-Qaryatain had been held by the militant group since late August. Islamic State used bulldozers to raze the Mar Elian monastery in the town.

Around 200 Christians were captured and given the choice of conversion to Islam or paying “jizya”, a tax on non-Muslims. Among them was Fr Jack Murad, who with a volunteer at the monastery, Botros Hannah, was quizzed about his Christian faith. “They would ask about my theology – God, the Holy Trinity, Christ, and the Crucifixion,” he said. However, he thought it pointless trying to answer. FULL REPORT