A group of Greek Orthodox nuns taken captive from their convent in the historic Syrian town of Maaloula have appeared in a new video.
The video of the nuns, who were taken at gunpoint by rebel forces from Mar Takla convent in early December, is reported to have been filmed on Feb. 5. It was shown on the television channel Al Jazeera on Sunday.
The clip has no sound, but a commentator said “they say they are in good health, haven’t been mistreated… and they are waiting for their release to return to the convent”.
In an earlier video, released on Dec. 6, the nuns denied they had been kidnapped but it’s not clear to what extent they were speaking under duress. Twelve nuns are thought to have been captured, along with three maids, although the exact composition of those captured remains unclear.
Media close to the Syrian regime had accused rebels of using the nuns as human shields, and fears were expressed for their safety, AFP news agency reported.
In the latest footage, the nuns “thank all those who are seeking to obtain their release and call for the release of all prisoners”, Al-Jazeera reported them as saying.
It said “the kidnappers are demanding the release of women held in Syrian prisons to set the nuns free”, without elaborating. Other reports say that agreement on the release of the nuns was imminent when an exponent of the Saudi group Jabhat Al Nusra Front, said to be very close to the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, inserted a demand for the release of 500 jihadists as a condition.
The nuns also reportedly called for an end to the targeting of holy sites by all parties to Syria’s bloody 33-month conflict.
On Friday, Lebanon’s interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati voiced optimism the nuns could be released soon, helped by Qatari mediation. Qatar has said it is exerting efforts to secure the release of the nuns. The matter is also being followed up by Lebanon’s General Security chief, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. The nuns are said to be of Syrian and Lebanese nationality.
Mikati also said two Orthodox bishops kidnapped in Syria in early 2013 are probably still alive. “There is no information that indicates otherwise,” he said when asked if the bishops were believed to be safe, according to a report in Lebanon’s Daily Star.
Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted in April by armed men near Aleppo while en route to the northern Syrian city from the Turkish border. They were reportedly on their way to negotiate the release of three priests who are also missing.
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