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Lebanon authorises entry for 20 Assyrians fleeing IS

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Lebanon authorises entry for 20 Assyrians fleeing IS

Syrian refugees walk through snow in a refugee camp in Kabelias near the the Lebanese village of Zahle, January 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/)

Beirut (AFP) - Lebanon made an exception to its border restrictions on Syrian refugees Tuesday to allow in some 20 Assyrian Christians fleeing the Islamic State group, a priest said.

The Assyrians, who included children, had fled their homes in the northeastern province of Hasakeh and arrived Monday evening at a Lebanese border checkpoint, said Lebanese priest Sargoun Zoumaya.

"They spent the whole night at the border because of the very strict Lebanese entry measures and I had to make several calls so they would be allowed to come in," Zoumaya told AFP.

Lebanon's official National News Agency also reported the entry of the Assyrian refugees, putting the number at 17.

Lebanon has tightened border restrictions since January in an effort to curb the entry of Syrians into its territories.

More than 1.1 million Syrians have fled their country's conflict to take refugee in Lebanon, which has struggled to deal with the influx.

Zoumaya said the Assyrians received a one-week visa "because it is a humanitarian case" and were brought to the St. George Assyrian Church in east Beirut.

"They are all in good health and are being hosted in nearby homes. We'll try to help them," Zoumaya said.

On Saturday, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk announced he had given orders "to facilitate the entry of Assyrians into (Lebanon) because this community's situation is a humanitarian one."

IS jihadists kidnapped some 220 Assyrians last week as they seized control of several Christian villages in northeastern Syrian, prompting some 5,000 members of the community to flee their homes.

Four of those kidnapped were released on Tuesday, including a mother and a daughter, said Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Network for Human Rights.

Edward said ransoms were paid for their release, but declined to specify the amount.

"Negotiations for the release of the rest are ongoing. For now, it's going positively," he told AFP.

An IS religious court decided Saturday to free some of the hostages in exchange for a "jizya," or tax paid by non-Muslims.

In total, 23 have been released since Sunday.

Meanwhile an anti-regime Assyrian political activist detained since July 2014 by Syrian authorities was also released.

Samir Ibrahim, 59, a leader in the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, was arrested on his way to Beirut last year.

Four Assyrian political activists are still detained by the Syrian regime, including one who has been held since 1978.

Before its uprising began in March 2011, Syria was home to about 30,000 Assyrians, one of the oldest Christian communities.

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