Syrian Islamists Free 13 Kidnapped Nuns In Prisoner Swap

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13 Greek Orthodox nuns held for three months by rebels in Syria after being taken from their convent in Maaloula have arrived back in Damascus.

The nuns were handed over to Lebanese officials and then driven to Syria. They said they were tired, but that they had been mostly well treated.

They were freed as part of a prisoner exchange involving some 150 women and children held by the Syrian government. The deal was negotiated by officials from Qatar and Lebanon. The nuns were apparently well after their ordeal. They were brought to Arsal, a town the north-eastern Bekaa Valley, early on Monday. They were then handed over to the Syrian authorities.

It is believed they were held by the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group affiliated to al-Qaeda. Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, head of the Mar Takla monastery in Maaloula, said the nuns had been treated well.

“God did not leave us,” she told reporters. “The [al-Nusra] Front was good to us… but we took off our crosses because we were in the wrong place to wear them.”

George Haswani, a pro-government Christian businessman from Yabroud, told the Lebanese television channel al-Jadeed that the nuns had stayed at his villa and that President Bashar al-Assad had on several occasions personally checked on their health.

The rebels had said that they were protecting the women from government shelling, while Syrian officials had said they were abducted to intimidate the country’s minority Christian community.

Many fear that if the secular government is overthrown, they will be targeted by jihadist rebels calling for an Islamic state and that Christian communities will be destroyed, as they have been in Iraq. Full Article

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