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A group of Syria-based Orthodox nuns released unharmed yesterday after a three-month ordeal told a news conference they were treated well by their Islamist captors.
The 13 sisters, and their three helpers, who were kidnapped from a Greek Orthodox monastery in the ancient Syrian town of Maaloula about 40 miles north of Damascus, were released in exchange for some 150 female prisoners held by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
They had been held in the town of Yabroud, a rebel stronghold 15 miles north of Maaloula, by members of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.
Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf, head of Maaloula convent, told a press conference yesterday: “God did not leave us. The [Nusra] Front was good to us … but we took off our crosses because we were in the wrong place to wear them.”
The women were released in the town of Judayat Yabus on the Syrian-Lebanon border early yesterday morning and after their release travelled to Damascus.
Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the nuns said that the nuns’ release had been mediated by the secret services of Qatar and Lebanon following an intervention by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and represented “a sign of hope in this time of crisis”.
The group of mainly Syrian and Lebanese nuns has been held since December 2013, when forces from Jabat Al-Nusra and other jihadi militias overran the ancient Christian town of Maaloula and abducted the women from the Mar Thecla Greek Orthodox Convent.
Top: Mother Pelagia Sayyaf (front left) at a prayer service at Damascus' Greek Orthodox church of the Holy Cross yesterday. Above: The nuns' St Thecla Monastery in Maaloula. Photos: CNS/Reuters, Wikipedia