MOSUL: A bell was inaugurated at a church in Mosul on Saturday to the cheers of Iraqi Christians, seven years after the Islamic State group overran the northern city.
Dozens of faithful stood by as Father Pios Affas rang the newly installed bell for the first time at the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma, an AFP correspondent reported.
It drew applause and ululations from the crowd, before prayers were held.
"After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul," Affas told them.
IS jihadists swept into Mosul and proclaimed it their "capital" in 2014, before they were driven out three years later by the Iraqi army after months of gruelling street fighting.
The return of the Mosul church bell "heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city," said Affas.
"This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites," he told AFP.
The bell weighing 285 kilogrammes (nearly 630 pounds) was cast in Lebanon with donations from Fraternity in Iraq, a French NGO that helps religious minorities, and transported from Beirut to Mosul by plane and truck.
The church of Mar Tuma, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court.
Restoration work is ongoing and its marble floor has been dismantled to be completely redone.
Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the faithful attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Arbil so that she could see the church being "brought back to life".
"My joy is indescribable," said the 40-year-old teacher. "It's as if the heart of Christianity is beating again."
Iraq's Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the recurrent violence that has ravaged the country.