March 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Kidnapped nuns in Syria are set free

By John Newton in Beirut

TWELVE nuns kidnapped by jihadists in Syria last December were set free last Sunday.

Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, broke the news on the freed nuns to a team from Aid to the Church in Need, who had just arrived in Lebanon to visit projects supporting refugees from Syria.

The Damascus-based Patriarch told members of the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians that the nuns had not been harmed during their ordeal and that their release was ‘a sign of hope in this time of crisis.’

“I think they were not treated too badly as it is not in the interest of the kidnappers to do this,” Gregorios III said.

He went on to say that the freedom of the nuns had been secured following the intervention of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X. Patriarch Gregorios added that the release had apparently been mediated by the secret services of Qatar and Lebanon.

The nuns were seized from a monastery in the Syrian town of Maaloula.

“[The nuns] had to travel [80Km] from Yabroud [where they were being held] to the border of Lebanon and I don’t know where they will go this evening,” Patriarch Gregorios said, although it is expected they will now settle in Lebanon.

His comments came as a Lebanese security source was reported as saying that the nuns were being accompanied by the head of a Lebanese security agency and a Qatari intelligence official.

According to media reports, the release of the nuns had been agreed as part of a deal in which the government would free scores of women prisoners.

The Sisters were seized in December from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla in the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula, about 40 miles north of Damascus. Later that month, the nuns appeared in a video obtained by Al-Jazeera television. Soon after their capture, they were reportedly moved 15 miles north to the rebel-held town of Yabroud.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group identified the rebels who took the nuns as militants from the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.  The Nusra Front invaded Maaloula on September 4 2013. In the three days that they held the town, 12 people were killed, including three men who refused to renounce their Christian faith.

The Patriarch described speaking to the nuns’ Mother Superior shortly after the town was taken.  Weeks later, the Islamists struck again and took the nuns. Children who fled Maaloula in September are being supported and educated by the Church in Damascus.

“Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need we have been able to give help to 5000 children: 1000 in Damascus, 2000 in Dina, and 2,000 in Homs,” Patriarch Gregorios said.

ACN has provided ongoing emergency help for the victims of the violence and unrest in Syria—including food, shelter and medicine.  Up to  nine   million people are either internally displaced within Syria or living as refugees abroad. Of Syria’s pre-war Christian population of 1.75 million, it is now understood that 500,000 have fled their homes.


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