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UN Security Council to hold emergency talks on Iraq

The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting on Iraq on Thursday (Aug 7), after Islamist militants seized the country's largest Christian town.

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting on Iraq on Thursday (Aug 7), after Islamist militants seized the country's largest Christian town.

The meeting was requested by France which expressed concern over the advance of Islamic State fighters and the seizure of Qaraqosh, in a new offensive that has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes. The talks are scheduled to begin at 5:30 pm (2130 GMT), a diplomatic source said.

"France is very deeply concerned by the latest advances of (IS militants) in the north of Iraq and the taking of Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq, as well as by the intolerable abuses that were committed," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

"Given the seriousness of the situation - the first victims of which are civilians and religious minorities - France is requesting an urgent meeting of the Security Council so the international community can mobilize to counter the terrorist threat in Iraq and support and protect the population at risk," he said.

The latest advance saw the Sunni extremist Islamic State extend its writ over northern Iraq and move within striking distance of autonomous Kurdistan. IS, which proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq in late June, moved into Qaraqosh and other towns overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, residents said.

Religious leaders said IS militants have forced 100,000 Christians to flee and have occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts. Joining world alarm over the IS advance, Pope Francis called on the international community to protect the mostly Christian communities of northern Iraq fleeing a lightning advance by jihadist militants.

The UN council on Tuesday condemned attacks by IS fighters in Iraq and warned that those responsible for the violence could face trial for crimes against humanity. The statement from the 15-member council was the second strong condemnation over the past two weeks of the IS offensive that saw jihadists seize control of the main northern city of Mosul on June 10.

The council warned that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) posed a threat not only to Iraq and Syria but to "regional peace, security and stability."

"Widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religion or belief may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable," said the statement read by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

The ambassador singled out the Yazidi minority, a community whose faith is rooted in Zoroastrianism, and who have been targed by jihadists as "devil worshippers."

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