[Photos] Christians celebrate Palm Sunday near Mosul for the first time in three years

QARAQOSH — Hundreds of Christians flocked to the Iraqi town of Qaraqosh on Sunday (April 9) to celebrate Palm Sunday for the first time in three years, packing into a church previously torched by the Islamic State (ISIS).

In October 2016, Iraqi forces expelled the Sunni Muslim militants from Qaraqosh as part of a campaign to retake nearby Mosul, the country's second-largest city seized by ISIS in June 2014.

Iraq's biggest Christian settlement until the militants arrived, Qaraqosh has been a ghost town in recent years, with most residents still too afraid to return because the battle for Mosul, 20 kilometers away, is still raging.

Christians arrived for the mass from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, where most Christian fled when ISIS gave them an ultimatum to pay tax, convert or die.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told worshipers in the Immaculate Conception Church on Sunday that reconciliation was needed.

ISIS has targeted minority communities in both Iraq and Syria, setting churches on fire.

Scribbled ISIS slogans could be still seen on the church walls while torn-up prayer books littered the floor.

Escorted by soldiers carrying rifles, the congregation then walked through Qaraqosh for Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday.

(Photos: Reuters/Suhaib Salem)