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Release Abducted Nuns, Orthodox Bishop Urges Syrian Rebels

Bernard Gagnon
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The bishop called for the release of 12 nuns kidnapped by Islamist rebels, saying they “have done no harm to anyone.”

An Orthodox bishop in Syria has called for the release of 12 nuns kidnapped by Islamist rebels, saying they “have done no harm to anyone.”

“We’ve now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It’s a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy,” Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, told Aid to the Church in Need Dec. 11.

The bishop told the international Catholic pastoral charity that there has been no communication with the nuns, and that he believes they are being held in Yabrud, a rebel-held town 12 miles from their Orthodox convent of St. Thekla in Ma'loula.

The nuns, along with three women from their convent's orphanage, were abducted after Ma'loula, located 35 miles north of Damascus, was seized by rebel forces Dec. 2. Their captors are presumed to be Islamist fighters of al-Nusra Front.

“I am very sad that they have been abducted,” the bishop said.

The television station Al Jazeera broadcast video of the nuns last week.

“They said they had been removed for their own safety,” Bishop Alnemeh reported. “We don't know how recent the recordings are and how the sisters are doing now.”

The Syrian government is negotiating with rebels who are demanding that hundreds of imprisoned women activists be freed in exchange for the nuns’ freedom, the Associated Press reports.

Bishop Alnemeh said the nuns have been completely apolitical.

“They were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. Their convent took in refugees regardless of their religion, including Muslims.”

Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns in his Dec. 4 general audience.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Dec. 13 said there has been “a significant adnd deeply alarming rise” in abuctions of religious figures, journalists, activists, and human rights supporters by opposition groups. He said Syrian government forces have also engaged in “arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals.”

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