Turkey has released an audio recording of what it says were warnings to a Russian military jet before it was shot down on the Syrian border.
“Change your heading south immediately,” a voice says in English.
The Turkish military said it had tried to rescue the SU-24 bomber’s two pilots.
One of the pilots was killed by gunfire as he parachuted from the burning plane.
The other pilot was rescued. He denied claims the warplane had violated Turkish airspace and warnings had been given.
The Russian warplane crashed into a mountainside on Syrian soil after being hit by a missile from a Turkish F-16 fighter jet on November 24.
Tensions have escalated between Turkey and Russia over the incident, with Russian President Vladimir Putin describing it as a “stab in the back” and warning of “serious consequences”.
Moscow later broke off military contacts with Ankara and said it would deploy its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system in Syria to destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes. It also said fighter jets would now escort its bombers during air strikes over Syria.
On November 26, Russia said it would impose stricter controls on food and agriculture imports from Turkey. A Russian official said some 15% of Turkish agricultural produce fell short of Russian standards, with excessive levels of pesticides, nitrates and nitrites.
The US, the EU and the UN have all appealed for calm.
France’s President Francois Hollande is travelling to Moscow on November 26 to shore up support for action against ISIS, which killed 130 people in attacks in Paris on November 13.
The Turkish military said it had given 10 warnings to the Russian plane before it was shot down in Turkish airspace.
Turkish officials also say they did not know the warplane was Russian until they had shot it down.
On November 25, the Turkish military also put out a statement saying it had been in touch with Russian military attaches to explain the rules of engagement that led to the incident and that it had tried to rescue the pilots.
Turkey said it was ready for “all kinds of co-operation” with Moscow over the incident.
The surviving Russian pilot said on November 25 no warning had been given by Turkey.
Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin also stressed there was “no way” the jet could have violated Turkish airspace, as Ankara said it did.
He knew the region “very well”, he said, and the jet had not been in Turkish airspace “even for a second”.
Russia said the pilot was rescued from rebel-held territory in north-eastern Syria in a 12-hour operation involving Russian and Syrian Special Forces.
A Russian marine was also killed and a helicopter destroyed by rebels during the operation.
Syrian rebels released a video apparently showing the dead body of the second pilot, who was identified by Russia as Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov.
Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin was speaking from the Hmeymim airbase, where Russia’s aircraft are based.
Russia has been carrying out air strikes against opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since late September.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended the action by the country’s military, saying “everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders”.
He said he did not want to escalate tensions further.
Turkey is a member of NATO. The alliance has backed Turkey’s version of events, although it, too, is calling for “diplomacy and de-escalation” to resolve the situation.
Russia and Turkey have found themselves on opposing sides in Syria’s conflict, with Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is a staunch critic.
Turkey is also part of the US-led coalition against ISIS.
According to Russia’s ambassador to France, a Russian pilot who went missing after his warplane was shot down by Turkey was rescued by the Syrian army.
Alexander Orlov told Europe 1 radio the pilot had been taken to a Russian base. However, this report has not yet been confirmed by the authorities in Moscow.
The second pilot and a marine involved in their rescue operation were killed, Russia’s defense ministry says.
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it stood by member Turkey but echoed calls for calm.
He said he backed the Turks’ assessment, but added “diplomacy and de-escalation are important to resolve this situation”.
Turkey said the warplane had strayed into its airspace but Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted the Su-24 had been hit by an air-to-air missile while flying over Syrian territory.
Vladimir Putin described the downing of the plane as a “stab in the back”.
Breaking off military contacts with Turkey, Russia’s defense ministry said a cruiser equipped with an air defense system would be deployed in the Mediterranean to destroy “any targets representing a potential danger” for Russian forces in Syria.
Russian bombers carrying out air strikes over Syria will now be escorted by fighters, the military said.
Russian defense official Lt-Gen Sergey Rudskoy said the two pilots were shot at from the ground as they parachuted from their burning plane – one of them was killed.
There have been various reports about the fate of the second airman.
Sergey Rudskoy also said a rescue team using two Mi-8 helicopters had attempted to rescue the two pilots.
“During the operation, one of the helicopters came under small-arms fire, was damaged and made an emergency landing on neutral territory,” he said.
“One naval infantryman serving under contract was killed.”
Sergey Rudskoy said the rest of the rescue team were safely evacuated from the area to Russia’s Humaymim air base near Latakia in Syria.
Syrian rebels say they blew up the helicopter shortly after it landed with an anti-tank missile, releasing footage of the attack.
Russians have been advised not to visit Turkey – a popular tourist destination – with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying the terror threat there was no less than in Egypt, where a bomb attack brought down a Russian passenger plane last month.
One of Russia’s largest tour operators, Natali Tours, has suspended package holidays to Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his forces had been acting within their rules of engagement.
“Everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders,” he said.
The US, the EU and the UN have all appealed for calm.
President Barack Obama has assured his Turkish counterpart in a phone call of US support for his country’s right to defend its sovereignty.
Russia and Turkey have found themselves on opposing sides in Syria’s conflict, with Russia supporting its ally President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey calling for his ousting.
Turkey has reportedly shot down a Russian warplane on the border with Syria.
According to Russia’s defense ministry, a Su-24 had crashed on Syrian territory after being hit by fire from the ground, and that its pilots had managed to eject.
However, Turkish military officials said Turkish F-16s had shot down the plane after repeatedly warning its pilots they were violating Turkish airspace.
Video showed the warplane crashing in a rebel-held area of Latakia province.
It is the first time a Russian military aircraft has crashed in Syria since Moscow launched airstrikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in late September.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as “very serious”, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions.
The NATO military alliance, to which Turkey belongs, said it was following the situation “closely” and was in contact with the Turkish authorities.
The Russian defense ministry confirmed on November 24 that a Russian Su-24 had “crashed on Syrian territory, having been hit from the ground” while it was flying at an altitude of 6,000m [19,685ft].
“Efforts are being made to ascertain what happened to the pilots. According to preliminary reports, the pilots have managed to self-eject,” the ministry was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The ministry stressed that “throughout its flight, the aircraft remained exclusively above Syrian territory”, adding: “Objective monitoring data shows it.”
However, the Turkish military said two F-16s on patrol had fired on an unidentified aircraft at 09:24 local time after warning it 10 times over five minutes about violating Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.
It noted that the F-16s had intervened “in accordance with the rules of engagement”, which were changed after Syria shot down a Turkish plane in 2012.
According to th Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jet had crashed in the mountainous Jabal Turkmen area of Latakia, where air strikes and fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces had been reported earlier on Tuesday.
Russian military helicopters were searching for the pilots near the crash site in the predominantly Turkmen Bayir Bucak area, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV quoted an ethnic Turkmen rebel group as saying it had captured one of the Su-24’s two pilots and were “looking for the other”.
A video posted online by rebels meanwhile appeared to show a Russian pilot immobile on the ground, either badly wounded or dead.
Russian aircraft have flown hundreds of sorties over northern Syria since September. Moscow says they have targeted only “terrorists”, but activists say its strikes have mainly hit Western-backed rebel groups.
Turkey, a vehement opponent of Syria’s president, has warned against violations of its airspace by Russian and Syrian aircraft.
Last month, Ankara said Turkish F-16s had intercepted a Russian jet that crossed its border and two Turkish jets had been harassed by an unidentified Mig-29.
The Turkish foreign ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador last week to warn him that there would be “serious consequences” if the Russian air force did not immediately stop bombing “civilian Turkmen villages” in Bayir Bucak.
According to US officials, an American airstrike has destroyed more than 238 fuel trucks controlled by ISIS militants in north-east Syria.
It is thought the pilots found the trucks parked up together, waiting to be loaded at an oil production point near al-Hasakah and Dayr Az Zawr.
Warning shots were reportedly fired to scare away the civilian drivers, before the destruction of the trucks began.
Islamic State makes large amounts of money from oil it produces from seized facilities.
The US Department of Defense says it will release video of the air raid, which took place over the weekend.
Last week another 116 tankers were destroyed in a previous airstrike.
Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, said on November 23: “This was conducted in many ways identical to our last,”
“It was proceeded with a leaflet drop to warn drivers out of their trucks as well as a show of force.”
Jeff Davis said there were no reports of civilian casualties.
The oil truck strikes are part of Operation Tidal Wave II, a change in tactics on the part of the coalition. Previously, petrol supplies were largely avoided because of the impact on civilian populations.
A US-led coalition began a campaign of air strikes in Syria and Iraq in 2014, after ISIS took large parts of both countries.
Speaking during a joint session of both houses of parliament President Francois Hollande has said that France is committed to “destroying” ISIS after last week’s deadly attacks.
Francois Holland said he would table a bill to extend the state of emergency declared after the attacks for three months and would suggest changes to the constitution.
France’s military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria will also intensify.
ISIS says it carried out the attacks on bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and Stade de France in which 129 people died.
Francois Hollande said the constitution needed to be amended as “we need an appropriate tool we can use without having to resort to the state of emergency”.
He said he would travel to meet Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in the coming days to discuss action against the group.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris on November 16 to show support for “America’s oldest friend” against what he called “psychopathic monsters”.
At a G20 summit in Turkey, world leaders promised tighter co-operation in the wake of the attacks.
Barack Obama said the US and France had made a new agreement on intelligence sharing but said US military advisers thought sending ground troops to combat ISIS would be a mistake.
In his address, Francois Hollande reiterated his opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power but said “our enemy in Syria is Daesh [ISIS]”.
He promised more resources for the security forces and said the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier would be sent on November 19 to bolster the military campaign against ISIS.
On November 15, French aircraft attacked Raqqa, ISIS stronghold in Syria. French officials said 10 jets had dropped 20 guided bombs targeting sites including a command centre, a recruitment centre for jihadists, a munitions depot and a training camp.
ISIS has issued a statement saying the raid targeted empty locations and that there were no casualties.
Deutsche Bank has been fined $258 million by the New York State Department of Financial Services and the Federal Reserve for working with Syria and Iran.
Employees who worked on the illegal transactions must not work with the bank again, the Federal Reserve said.
Deutsche Bank also violated various New York state laws and is paying the two agencies separately.
“The company did not have sufficient policies and procedures to ensure that activities conducted at its offices outside of the United States complied with US sanctions laws,” an official from the Federal Reserve said.
The Fed is requiring Deutsche Bank to create an “enhanced” program to “ensure global compliance” with US sanctions, characterizing its transactions with Syria and Iran “unsafe and unsound”.
Deutsche Bank said in a statement that the conduct had stopped several years ago, adding: “Since then we have terminated all business with parties from the countries involved.”
Two French banks, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, received higher fines from the US for working with US-sanctioned countries.
Former German rapper Deso Dogg, real name Denis Cuspert, who had become an ISIS fighter, has been killed by a US air strike in Syria, defense officials have confirmed.
Denis Cuspert had been designated a global terrorist by the US State Department and had threatened President Barack Obama.
Officials said Denis Cuspert, who encouraged Muslims to work for ISIS, was killed in an October 16 air strike near Raqqa.
He used the stage name “Deso Dogg” before converting to Islam in 2010.
“Cuspert is emblematic of the type of foreign recruit IS seeks for its ranks – individuals who have engaged in criminal activity in their home countries who then travel to Iraq and Syria to commit far worse crimes,” the State Department wrote of Denis Cuspert in February.
A spokesman for Germany’s Interior Ministry would not confirm or deny his death.
In April 2014 Denis Cuspert was reported to have been killed in Syria but that claim was later retracted.
Denis Cuspert, whose rap career ended before he starting working for ISIS, would use social media to attract youth and Westerners, especially Germans, to the group.
He left his music career behind in 2010. Previously, he had toured with American rapper DMX in 2006, the New York Times reported.
In Germany, Denis Cuspert became popular for singing nasheeds – Islamic devotional music – in German.
ISIS militants have blown up the Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syrian officials and local sources say.
The Arch of Triumph was “pulverized” by the ISIS fighters who control the city, a Palmyra activist told AFP.
The monument is thought to have been built about 2,000 years ago.
ISIS has already destroyed two ancient temples at the site, described by UNESCO as one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.
“The Arch of Triumph was pulverized. ISIS has destroyed it,” Mohammad Hassan al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra told AFP on October 5.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group monitoring the conflict, said sources on the ground had confirmed the destruction.
Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim also confirmed the news, and told Reuters news agency that if ISIS remains in control of Palmyra, “the city is doomed”.
UNESCO’s director general Irina Bokova has said the destruction constitutes a “war crime” and called on the international community to stand united against IS efforts to “deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history”.
ISIS believes shrines or statues represent idolatry, and should be destroyed.
In August, ISIS destroyed the ancient Temple of Baalshamin – one of the city’s best-known buildings built nearly 2,000 years ago.
The group has also published photos of militants destroying what it said were artifacts looted at Palmyra.
ISIS militants captured the historic site from Syrian government troops in May, amid a series of setbacks for forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s conflict, which began in 2011, has left more than 250,000 dead and about half the country’s population displaced.
Russia has conducted the first airstrikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties.
The US says it was informed an hour before they took place.
Russian defense officials say aircraft targeted the Islamic State (ISIS) group, but an unnamed US official told Reuters that so far they did not appear to be targeting ISIS-held territory.
Syria’s civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government.
The US and its allies have insisted that President Bashar al-Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed its ally remaining in power.
The upper house of the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy the Russian air force in Syria.
The Russian defense ministry said the country’s air force had targeted ISIS military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel supplies.
A Syrian opposition activist network, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said Russian warplanes hit five towns – Zafaraneh, Rastan, Talbiseh, Makarmia and Ghanto – resulting in the deaths of 36 people, including five children.
None of the areas targeted were controlled by ISIS, activists said.
In a TV address, President Vladimir Putin said the air strikes were targeting Islamist militants – including Russian citizens – who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.
“If they [militants] succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” he said.
Vladimir Putin added that Russia was not going to send ground troops to Syria, and that its role in Syrian army operations would be limited.
“We certainly are not going to plunge head-on into this conflict… we will be supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups.”
Vladimir Putin also said he expected President Bashar al-Assad to talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but clarified that he was referring to what he described as “healthy” opposition groups.
A US defense official said: “A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-ISIL [ISIS] missions today over Syria. He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”
State department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL [ISIS].”
President Vladimir Putin says Russia is considering whether to follow the US and its allies in conducting air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) targets.
The Russian president spoke after meeting President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
However, the meeting, and the two presidents’ speeches at the UNGA, also highlighted splits about how to end the Syrian war.
Russia said it would be an “enormous mistake” not to work with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to tackle ISIS.
On September 28, the US and France again insisted that Bashar al-Assad must go.
Photo Getty Images
In response, Vladimir Putin said: “They aren’t citizens of Syria and so should not be involved in choosing the leadership of another country.”
Russia would conduct air strikes only if they were approved by the United Nations, Vladimir Putin said, while also ruling out Russian troops taking part in a ground operation in Syria.
Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met for 90 minutes on the sidelines of the UNGA in talks that the Russian president called “very constructive, business-like and frank”.
It was Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin’s first face-to-face meeting in almost a year, with the Ukraine war also on the agenda.
A senior US government official said neither president was “seeking to score points” in the talks. Both sides agreed to open lines of communication to avoid accidental military conflict in the region, the official added.
In his speech to the UNGA, President Barack Obama said compromise among powers would be essential to ending the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives and forced four million people to flee abroad.
“The US is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” he said.
“But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.”
Vladimir Putin said it was an “enormous mistake to refuse to co-operate with the Syrian government and its armed forces who are valiantly fighting terrorism face-to-face”.
He also called for the creation of a “broad anti-terror coalition” to fight ISIS, comparing it to the international forces that fought against Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have long differed on Syria: the US opposes President Assad remaining in power, while Russia has been a staunch ally of the regime in Damascus and has recently stepped up military support.
Some Western leaders have recently softened their stance towards Bashar al-Assad, conceding that he might be able to stay in power during a political transition.
ISIS has blown up three funerary towers at the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdul Karim has said.
Maamoun Abdul Karim told the AFP that “the best preserved and most beautiful” had been destroyed.
The multi-storey sandstone monuments, standing outside the city walls in an area known as the Valley of the Tombs, belonged to rich Palmyrene families.
Their demolition comes only days after ISIS blew up Palmyra’s two main temples.
The group, which captured the UNESCO World Heritage site from government forces in May, has previously destroyed two Islamic shrines near Palmyra, which they described as “manifestations of polytheism”.
According to the United Nations, a satellite image confirms that Palmyra’s Temple of Bel in northern Syria has been destroyed.
There had been earlier reports of an explosion at Palmyra’s main temple, which is held by ISIS militants.
Syria’s antiquities chief had earlier said the basic structure of the 2,000-year-old site was intact.
However, UN satellite analysts UNOSAT say the image shows almost nothing remains.
On August 31, Maamoun Abdul Karim, the head of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, had said the Temple of Bel suffered a large explosion, but that he believed most of the site had remained intact.
Witnesses had struggled to get close to the site to confirm the extent of the damage.
ISIS has previously targeted historical sites in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, regarding their ancient temples and sculptures as heretical.
The sale of looted antiquities is one of the group’s main sources of funding. It has also been accused of destroying ancient sites to gain publicity.
Authorities removed hundreds of statues and priceless objects before ISIS tightened its grip on Palmyra earlier this year.
Last week, it was confirmed that another site at Palmyra, the Temple of Baalshamin, had been blown up.
UNOSAT released satellite images showing the extent of the damage, proving that parts were heavily damaged or completely destroyed.
ISIS militants seized control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the World Heritage site.
Earlier this month the group murdered 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist who had looked after the Palmyra ruins for 40 years.
The world-famous Greco-Roman ruins of Palmyra are in the desert north-east of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The Temple of Bel is dedicated to the Palmyrene gods and was one of the best-preserved parts of the ancient city of Palmyra.
Syrian government forces have sought to drive ISIS out of the Palmyra area in recent months and there has been fierce fighting in nearby towns.
Senior ISIS member Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife in a rare US special forces ground raid in eastern Syria.
According to a US Department of Defense statement, Abu Sayyaf helped direct oil, gas and financial operations for the Islamic State, as well as holding a military role.
The statement said forces tried to capture Abu Sayyaf, but he was killed after engaging them.
It is the first time the US is known to have carried out a ground operation to attack ISIS within Syria.
The operation was authorized by President Barack Obama and was carried out by forces based in Iraq.
US officials said Abu Sayyaf was Tunisian, with one official telling CNN he was the chief financial officer “of all of [ISIS]” and that the US had seized “reams of data on how ISIS operates, communicates and earns its money”.
On Arabic social media, however, Abu Sayyaf was not being spoken of as a known public figure.
Oil and gas have been an important source of revenue for ISIS, which gained swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq last year.
On May 16, the group took control of the northern part of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which it has been advancing on for three days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – a UK-based network that uses activists within Syria.
The US said the operation in Syria was conducted “with the full consent of Iraqi authorities”, though it did not inform the Syrian government in advance.
“We have warned [President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime not to interfere with our ongoing efforts against [ISIS] inside of Syria,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, adding that “the Assad regime is not and cannot be a partner in the fight” against IS.
The Pentagon said Abu Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, is suspected of being an ISIS member and of being complicit in the enslavement of a young Yazidi woman who was rescued in the raid.
It said it believed at least 12 militants had been killed at the scene, that there was hand-to-hand fighting and that militants had tried to use women and children as shields.
Umm Sayyaf has been taken into military detention in Iraq.
The operation lasted for about 30 minutes around dawn in the residential quarters of the al-Omar oil field, which houses about 500 families of ISIS fighters.
In Iraq on Saturday, ISIS militants tightened their grip over the centre of the city of Ramadi but reportedly withdrew from a key government compound they had seized a day earlier.
Neither ISIS nor its supporters on social media were commenting publicly on the raid against Abu Sayyaf, with Twitter posts focusing instead on Ramadi.
The US has been carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. Shortly after they began, the Pentagon said there had been a failed raid in Syria to free American hostages – the only other ground operation inside the country it has acknowledged.
During his traditional Easter Sunday’s Urbi et Orbi address, Pope Francis has called for peace in Syria and Iraq.
The pontiff urged the international community to address the “immense humanitarian tragedy” in both countries.
Pope Francis also called for peace in the Holy Land, Ukraine, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He once again referred to the persecution of Christians in many countries.
Pope Francis said: “We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.
“We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries.
“May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.”
The Pope also said his thoughts and prayers were with the young people killed in last Thursday’s massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya.
Referring to the outline agreement on Iran’s nuclear program recently reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne, he expressed hope that it might be “a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world”.
Pope Francis concluded his address by saying: “We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups.
“Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family. And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.”
During this year’s Good Friday service in Rome, Pope Francis condemned what he termed the “complicit silence” about the killing of Christians.
ISIS has released 19 of an estimated 220 members of an Assyrian Christian community kidnapped in north-eastern Syria, activists say.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said an Assyrian commander had told it of the releases.
Some reports say the releases were made in exchange for a sum of money.
The kidnappings took place shortly before dawn on February 23, when ISIS militants swept into about 12 villages.
Men, women and children from the villages, located on the southern bank of the Khabur River, near the town of Tal Tamr, were taken captive.
Correspondents say that news of the releases will provide some comfort to the Christian Assyrian community – which has been devastated by the abductions – even though there is concern for those still being held.
Assyrian Christian officials said that the 16 men and three women who were released arrived safely on February 28 at the Church of the Virgin Mary in the city of Hassakeh.
The nineteen – all from the village of Tal Ghoran – had been transported by bus from the IS-held town of Shaddadeh, which is south of Hassakeh.
Some reports say that all those freed were about 50 or older, indicating that age might be a factor.
The Assyrian Human Rights Network said the captives gained their freedom after a Sharia court ordered them to pay an unspecified amount of money levied as a tax on non-Muslims.
Assyrian leaders and Sunni tribal sheikhs are trying to negotiate with ISIS to secure the release of the remaining captives, activists said.
It is estimated that up to 40,000 Assyrians lived in Syria – alongside the overall Christian population of 1.2 million – before the country’s civil war broke out in 2011.
The Assyrians, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, have been under increasing pressure since ISIS captured large parts of Syria.
Some 1,000 local Assyrian families are believed to have fled their homes in the wake of the abductions.
PM David Cameron has defended the British security services amid criticisms they failed to stop Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, from joining ISIS in Syria.
The prime minister said MI5 made “incredibly difficult judgments” on the UK’s behalf.
His comments came after it emerged Mohammed Emwazi was known to authorities.
David Cameron said he would not comment on specific cases but urged the public to back the security services.
Mohammed Emwazi, who is in his mid-20s, first appeared in a video last August, when he apparently killed American journalist James Foley.
He was later thought to have been pictured in the videos of the beheadings of British aid worker David Haines, American journalist Steven Sotloff, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter Kassig.
UK-based advocacy group Cage has suggested that MI5 may have contributed to the radicalization of Mohammed Emwazi.
Downing Street said the claim was “completely reprehensible”, while London Mayor Boris Johnson described Cage’s comments as “an apology for terror”.
David Cameron defended the security services, praising the work of “these extraordinary men and women”.
He said: “I meet with them regularly, I ask them searching questions about what they do and in my almost five years’ experience as prime minister, I think they are incredibly impressive, hard-working, dedicated, courageous and effective at protecting our country.
“All of the time, they are having to make incredibly difficult judgements and I think basically they make very good judgements on our behalf, and I think whilst we are in the middle of this vast effort to make sure British citizens are safe, the most important thing is to get behind them.”
David Cameron went on to say the security services’ “dedication and work has saved us from plots on the streets of the UK that could have done us immense damage” within the last few months.
He said he was satisfied there was effective scrutiny of the work they do.
Mihammed Emwazi has appeared in videos dressed in a black robe with a black balaclava covering all but his eyes and top of his nose.
Speaking with a British accent, Jihadi John taunted Western powers before holding his knife to the hostages’ necks, appearing to start cutting before the film stopped.
Hostages released by ISIS said Jihadi John was one of three British jihadists guarding Westerners abducted by the group in Syria.
According to new reports, there are more members of an Assyrian Christian community in north-eastern Syria were abducted by ISIS militants than at first thought.
Sources in the community said as many as 200 people might have been seized on February 23 in raids on a string of villages near Tal Tamr, in Hassakeh province.
Most of the captives were women, children and the elderly.
Some 1,000 local Assyrian families are believed to have fled their homes in the wake of the abductions.
Kurdish and Christian militia are battling Islamic State in the area.
At least 90 Assyrians were seized by the militants on February 23 as they captured 12 villages along the southern bank of the Khabur river before dawn, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition group that monitors the conflict in the country.
The Syriac National Council of Syria put the figure as high as 150, while Afram Yaboub of the Assyrian Federation of Sweden said sources on the ground had told him that at least 60 and up to 200 people were missing.
Osama Edward of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network told the AFP news agency that the captives had been taken to the ISIS stronghold of Shaddadi, as did Syria’s state news agency, Sana.
“People were expecting an attack, but they thought that either the Syrian army, which is just 30km [20 miles] from there or the Kurds or the [US-led] coalition’s strikes would protect them,” Osama Edward said.
Hundreds of Assyrians who were living in villages on the north bank of the Khabur River and elsewhere are reported to have fled following the attack to the largely Kurdish-controlled provincial capital of Hassakeh, to the south-east, and Qamishli, another city to the north-east.
“Since Monday, 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hassakeh and another 150 in Qamishli,” Osama Edward reported.
The Syriac Military Council had about 400 fighters in the area and at least four had been killed in clashes with the jihadists, he added. The YPG has deployed between 1,000 and 1,500 fighters.
The YPG was also reported to be continuing a major offensive launched on Sunday against IS some 60 miles to the east, near the border with Iraq – an area of vital importance to the jihadists.
The Syrian Observatory said at least 132 ISIS militants had been killed in the offensive, along with seven members of the YPG.
A Turkish military convoy have entered into northern Syria and evacuated a historic Ottoman tomb and the soldiers guarding it.
Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu said the remains of Suleyman Shah would be moved elsewhere in Syria.
He said troops had destroyed the tomb’s complex, apparently to prevent it from being used by Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Turkey considers the shrine be to sovereign territory.
Suleyman Shah was grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman the first.
“We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel,” Ahmet Davutoglu said in televised remarks.
Earlier, in a series of tweets, Ahmet Davutoglu hailed the armed forces for carrying out a “highly successful” operation amid the “inherent risks” of conflict in Syria.
He said the remains had been moved to Turkey but would soon be rehoused in an area of Syria under Turkish military control, closer to the Turkish border.
The Turkish flag had already been raised over the site, Ahmet Davutoglu said.
There were no clashes with ISIS during the operation, but one soldier died in an accident, he added.
The operation began on Saturday at about 21:00 local time and ended on Sunday morning.
A large convoy, including 600 troops and almost tanks and armored vehicles, passed through Kobane – the city which Syrian Kurdish fighters retook last month from ISIS – and travelled some 20 miles south to the tomb on the banks of the Euphrates river.
Suleyman Shah is believed to have drowned in the river.
The tomb has been permanently guarded by a contingent of about 40 soldiers, who rotate periodically. The site is part of Turkish territory, according to a treaty signed in 1921.
The Turkish convoy was believed to be larger and more heavily armed than usual because of recent heavy fighting between the Kurdish militia and Syrian rebel groups against IS militants.
Since driving ISIS out of Kobane in January, the Kurdish Popular Protection Units and rebels have taken a number of surrounding villages.
They are now said to be only 15 miles from Tal Abyad – the strategically important border town east of Kobane that is used by ISIS militants to cross into Turkey.
ISIS has seized large swathes in Syria and Iraq, proclaiming a caliphate.
An American female hostage has been killed in a Jordanian air strike in Syria, Islamic State (ISIS) militants have said.
ISIS named the woman as aid worker Kayla Jean Mueller in statements online.
The group provided no other proof for the claim beyond pictures of the alleged site of the air strike, in Raqqa, the group’s stronghold in Syria.
The White House said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports but that it has yet to verify them. Jordan has questioned the ISIS claims.
A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Kayla Jean Mueller, 26, first came to the Turkish/Syrian border in 2012 to work with refugees.
She was abducted while working in Aleppo, Syria the following year.
The ISIS statement said she was killed in the building where she was being held. It did not provide images of a body.
If Kayla Jean Mueller’s death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while being held by ISIS. Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig were beheaded by the group.
The Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh tweeted that the ISIS claims were: “An old and sick trick used by terrorists and despots for decades: claiming that hostages [and] human shields held captive are killed by air raids.”
Jordan said it carried out aerial bombardments on ISIS targets in Syria on February 5, including on Raqqa.
The strikes were carried out in response to the killing of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by ISIS militants.
A video of Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage was posted online by ISIS earlier this week.
Moaz al-Kasasbeh was captured by militants in December after his F-16 fighter jet crashed in Syria. The video is believed to have been filmed on January 3.
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Thursday’s strikes were “upping the ante” against ISIS.
Thousands rallied in Jordan’s capital, Amman, on February 6 in support of their government’s military response. Among those marching was Jordan’s Queen Rania.