A community of Syrian and Lebanese nuns abducted from their convent last week have appeared in a video, saying they are in good health and were not kidnapped by Islamist rebels.
Broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on Friday, the video showed the 12 Orthodox sisters dressed in black religious garb and apparently comfortable. But it was unclear if they were being pressured to talk and where they are located, the news agency AFP noted.
One of the nuns, said: "A group brought us here and protected us, and we're very, very happy with them."
Despite many reports last week that said the sisters had been kidnapped, in the video the sisters claimed to have fled Maaloula after intense shelling. Media close to President Assad’s regime has accused rebels of using them as human shields.
News reports last week said the sisters had been abducted on 2 December from the St Thecla Greek Orthodox convent in Maaloula after rebel forces seized control of the town. They were reportedly taken to the nearby city of Yabroud.
According to a Saudi newspaper, Sharq al Awsat, the nuns have been abducted by a group called the Free Qalamoun brigade which, with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat an Nusra militia, is demanding the liberation of women prisoners jailed by the regime in exchange for the nuns’ release.
The Syriac Orthodox Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “[The Sisters] were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. In the convent they took in war refugees without regard for their religion including Muslims.”
“We’ve 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 know no mercy.”
Bishop Alnemeh said it was unclear when the video clips were recorded or how they were made.
The bishop said all Syrians were tired of the war, which has so far claimed more than 115,000 lives.
He said: “The Syrian people no longer believe that this is revolution or reform, or the setting up of a new state on a clear foundation.”
The bishop said the people were pinning their hopes on the Geneva II peace conference that is due to take place in January.
Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have appealed for the nuns' release.