Islamist rebels have broken into St. Thecla Orthodox Convent in Maaloula near Damascus and held Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and a number of nuns hostage, according to local sources.
The Syrian Arab News Agency is reporting that the rebel militias also committed acts of vandalism in the town’s neighborhoods and around the convent, attacking locals and targeting them with sniper fire.
Details are sketchy, but some reports coming via government sources claim the terrorists are destroying the convent having overwhelmed the guards who were protecting it.
Reports say the girls from the orphanage and the younger nuns under the age of 60 were relocated to a safer location before the latest outbreak of violence. The Mother Superior and the older nuns chose to stay and their whereabouts are not certain.
Syria’s Relief and Social Affairs Minister, Kinda al-Shammat, voiced concern over the reports and called on the international community to pressure countries supporting terrorists to release the hostages, along with all those kidnapped held by terrorists in Syria.
Fighting has intensified fighting between government forces and rebel militias in recent weeks. The National Observatory for Human Rights in Syria, a London-based organisation close to anti-Assad forces, confirmed that the rebels have taken control of Maaloula, but did not mention the hostage-taking of the nuns in the convent.
In September, the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group, invaded Maaloula and attacked Christian homes and churches. Around 40 nuns and orphaned children of St. Thecla’s were holed up in the convent at that time.
Maaloula, with a population of 3,000, is one of the last places where Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, is still used.
The abduction of 12 nuns from St. Thecla’s convent was confirmed to Asia News Dec. 3rd by the apostolic nuncio to Damascus, Archbishop Mario Zenari.