Iraq's Yazidis are under deep assault as Islamic State militants have threatened to kill more than 300 families from the ethnic minority unless they convert to Islam, witnesses and a Yazidi lawmaker said Saturday.
Families in the villages of Koja, Hatimiya, and Qaboshi are surrounded by Sunni militants who are mounting an violent offensive through northern Iraq, sending tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians fleeing for their lives, and prompting international outrage.
The Yazidis are described as a "misunderstood and long-persecuted" religious sect
numbering as many as 500,000 and residing in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar as well as in Turkey and parts of Syria, Fox News reported.
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Their beliefs are a mixture of Christianity and Islam blended with ancient Persian traditions. They have been the victims of violent purges over centuries, but have remained a tight-knit group.
Yazidis believe in a supreme being, the creator of Earth, along with seven angels, including their most important angel, Malak Taus. Jesus is recognized by the group as a prophet. They have been targeted by ISIS along with Christians as the radicals attempt to purify the nation by ridding it of those who were not converted to Islam, NBC News noted
In recent weeks, however, about 40,000 have been forced into hiding in the mountains near Mount Sinjar as they are surrounded by Islamic militants. They lack water and are tucked away in the heat with dozens of children reportedly dying of dehydration, CNN reported
, noting mounting fears of a full-blown genocide if there is no intervention on their behalf.
U.S. planes and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces Saturday as they fired indiscriminately on Yazidis, U.S. Central Command said. The strikes destroyed armored carriers and a truck.
The military support also has been helping clear the way for aid flights to drop food and water to the starving refugees in the Sinjar area. Central Command announced Saturday night that the military had made the third such drop, delivering another 72 bundles of supplies, including more than 3,800 gallons of water and more than 16,000 meals.
But the rugged terrain has prevented the airdrops from reaching many of the trapped refugees, The New York Times reported
"There is no water, nothing to eat, there is nowhere to sit, there is not even a shadow," one of the refugees, Jalal Shoraf Din, told the Times.
Vian Dakhi, the only sect member representing the group in Iraq's parliament, begged other lawmakers to come to the Yazidis' aid in an emotional speech before the governing body.
"There is a collective attempt to exterminate the Yazidi people… Let's put our political differences aside and work together as human beings," she said, tearfully, according to CNN. "In the name of humanity, come to our rescue, come to our rescue."
Yazidis in the U.S. protested in Washington Thursday, vox.com reported
, calling for help as they spoke to family members inside Iraq who had buried children amid the violence.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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