Sanctuary near Mosul’s frontlines – Photos

The sound of artillery can be easily heard from the mountaintop of al-Qosh.

Although the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group was pushed back from nearby villages, the few people remaining in Saint Hormizd Monastery and the town itself are still living in a state of tension. The town, about 50km north of Mosul, is now largely deserted.

The monastery, considered to be one of the oldest still standing in Ninevah province, is virtually abandoned, with no visitors and no masses. None of the archbishops live here any more, having fled alongside most of the town’s residents when ISIL, also known as ISIS, took control of large parts of Ninevah.

The monastery overlooks the Ninevah plains, and battles between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces against ISIL can be watched from the top.

“I just pray every day that all of this will end very soon. We have been living in fear of ISIL for more than two years now,” said Matta Rammo, 49, one of two guards who remains at the monastery.

Ghazwan Elias, 36, who heads a local community organisation for the less fortunate, described the situation as “catastrophic”.

“All my people have left the town. I refuse to leave,” he told Al Jazeera. “I want my children to be raised here, in my country, here in Iraq.”

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