Militants from Islamic State, or ISIS, attacked at least three more villages in northeasern Syria on Saturday, about a month after the Sunni terror group abducted hundreds of Assyrian Christians from the same area.
ISIS, which is also known as ISIL, began the attack Saturday evening, targeting at least three villages near the town of Tal Tamr along the Khabur River in Hassakeh province, according to The Associated Press.
As Kurdish militiamen and their local allies were defending the villages, dozens of fighters from both sides have been killed, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports.
"The battles are now very intensive, very violent," Osama Edwards, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights, was quoted as saying. "Tal Tamr is the main goal of the Islamic State, to give them the corridor to the eastern border to Iraq."
ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda and wants to establish a caliphate in the Levant region and beyond. It has gained control over large swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq.
According to the Observatory, Kurdish fighters backed by local Assyrian militiamen were eventually able to push ISIS militants back.
Meanwhile, 26 ISIS terrorists, including two commanders, were killed in airstrikes in Hama province.
Last week, ISIS reportedly released 19 Assyrians from the village of Tel Goran in al-Hassakeh province after local Arab leaders negotiated with the terror group for three days, according to Assyrian International News Agency, or AINA.
Those released included 17 women and two men. Many more from the same village and hundreds from other villages remain captive.
AINA estimates that ISIS captured between 262 and 373 Assyrians from 35 villages on Feb. 23. Their release is also being negotiated.
The Assyrians, an indigenous Christian people, trace their roots back to ancient Mesopotamia.
According to Catholic Herald, ISIS militants have killed 15 of those it captured in February.
"Around 15 young Assyrians are martyred. Many of them were fighting to defend and protect the villages and families," Herald quoted Abbot Emanuel Youkhana as saying last week. "It is believed there are casualties and many Assyrians have been killed in the village," he added.
Abbot Youkhana also said that the hostages were likely transported to the nearby area of Mount Abdul Aziz, which is controlled by ISIS.
About 3,000 Assyrians have fled their villages, and there are no families left in the 35 Assyrian Christian villages that were attacked last month. The only people left in the region are Christian militia fighters who are fighting alongside Kurdish troops.
Since last June, when ISIS declared its "caliphate," the terror group has killed roughly 2,000 people, about two-thirds of them civilians, according to the Observatory.