They could not stop a congregation of about two dozen Christians holding their first service in the city for nearly six years.

A Syrian church has held prayers for the first time in years amid the rubble left by Islamic State fighters there.

Around two dozen Christians gathered at St Mary’s Church in Deir az-Zour, eastern Syria at the weekend for the first service in six years, according to The New Arab.

Rebels seized the city in 2012 and the Christian inhabitants fled. However, the Syrian regime recaptured the city last November and Christians are among residents slowly returning.

The service yesterday was led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Aphrem II. Some Muslim clerics also attended.

The patriarch said: ‘It’s an indescribable feeling for us to pray in a nearly-destroyed church, which serves as a consolation for our hearts and a message of hope to the people of the city to come back and take part in building it anew.’

Local bishop Maurice Amseeh called on Christians to return to their city.

‘The important thing now is for life to come back – for Deir az-Zour’s residents and Christians to come back to it,’ he told worshippers.

Deir az-Zour is the largest city in eastern Syria and around 3,000 Christians lived there before the war.

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