Christians and Muslims pray together in Damascus SYRIA for the release of the abducted nuns. This is the truth… accept no CNN/Fox News provocations! Most Muslims are our friends… sadly, the minority that aren’t friendly are violent. Keep focused and sane, kids…
On Sunday, Syrian Christians offered prayers for a group of more than a dozen nuns and orphanage workers held by rebels for nearly a week, fuelling fears in the minority community that extremists amongst the fighters seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad target them. The seizure of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and at least three other women is the latest attack to spark panic amongst Syrian Christians over the strength of al-Qaeda-linked militants and other Islamist radicals in the nearly 3-year-old revolt against Assad’s government. A priest and two bishops previously kidnapped by rebels remain missing, and many accuse extremists of vandalising churches in areas they’ve captured.
On Monday, rebels seized the nuns from the Greek Orthodox Mar Tekla convent when fighters overran Ma’loula, a mainly Christian village north of Damascus, which lies on a key highway. It’s changed hands several times in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces. Gunmen took the group, along with three women… themselves orphans… who work in the convent’s orphanage to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. According to Mother Febronia Nabhan, Superior of the Saidnaya Convent, the eldest of the nuns is nearly 90 years old, and the youngest of the orphanage workers is in her mid-teens. On Friday, rebels released a video of the nuns, where they denied being kidnapped, saying they were in good health and that fighters took them to a place away from the combat, out of concerns for their safety.
The video only stoked the worries of Christians who gathered Sunday for Liturgy at the Mariamiya Cathedral in Damascus, the main church of the Patriarchate of Antioch in Syria. Odette Abu Zakham, a 65-year-old woman in the congregation who lives in the nearby historic Christian district of Bab Touma, said, “They’re coming after us. All they do is massacre people; all they know is killing”. Another woman at Liturgy noted that in the video, the nuns appeared in their black robes, but with no religious symbols on them. She said, “They didn’t even let them wear their crosses. This just shows they aren’t capable of respecting Christians. It’s been a week. If they’re only holding them for their safety, they could have handed them over by now”. The woman spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against herself or her family.
Christians and other minorities tend to support Assad’s government, who comes from a Shi’ite offshoot sect. Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority form the backbone of the uprising against Assad. However, nationalist fighters in the opposition face an increasing and threatening expansion of power by extremists, both Syrian rebels who’ve taken up hardline al-Qaeda-style ideologies and foreign fighters. Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East, asked in his sermon at Liturgy, “I ask anyone with any connection, direct or indirect” to intercede to win the group’s return. “We hope this would happen today, not tomorrow. We urge everyone to adhere to the logic of dialogue and peace, not to violence and weapons”. He carefully avoided describing the nuns as ‘‘kidnapped’’ or asking for their release… praying only for their ‘‘return’’… a sign of concerns amongst the Church that any statement could inflame the situation.
The rebel faction that released the video, aired on al-Jazeera, didn’t name itself, and no faction announced it’s holding the group. Syrian opposition activists and Church officials said that the al-Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra is holding them. One activist said that a Syrian Christian businessman is trying to mediate between Jabhat al-Nusra and the government for their release in return for the release of seven Saudi fighters. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret negotiatons, but didn’t have any further details. Sources at the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East wouldn’t comment on the situation.
8 December 2013
Bishop Luqa al-Khoury, a Patriarchal Vicar at the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East in Damascus, urged Christians to take up arms to defend themselves and their holy places in the wake of the seizure of a group of nuns from the ancient village of Ma’loula. Speaking to the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman, he said, “We have many young men who’re asking us [to take action], and there are those demanding that we take immediate action. I call on every young man who can take up arms to come forward”, adding that he meant his initiative to propose that the community’s members should engage in self-defence and protect Christian holy places, which have come under attack recently. He went on to say, “Our young people are ready; their fingers are on the trigger and they’re ready to fight for the sake of Syria and for the sake of self-defence”.
Asked about the 13 nuns and several orphanage workers seized last week and spirited away from Ma’loula to the nearby town of Yabroud, Bishop Luqa indicated that he was unable to discuss their situation freely, “As they said, they’re in the home of a neighbour. When you’re in a neighbour’s home, you can only communicate when the neighbour wants you to”. The women appeared in video footage broadcast Friday by al-Jazeera and said that the rebels treated them well after forcing them to leave Ma’loula due to heavy shelling. Pro-opposition sources deny that the rebels kidnapped the women. Bishop Luqa said that some 40 churches suffered damage in the present civil war and blamed the international community for accepting the opposition’s version of events, “which is that the regime is killing its people… they’re seeing things with only eye”. He urged the major powers to make efforts to stop the flow of weapons into the country.
In Lebanon, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said that the events in Ma’loula, where a fierce campaign locked the régime and rebels in hard combat over the last several weeks, were having an impact on Christians in Lebanon and the rest of the world. Bassil told a news conference that it was time to act to halt “the series of attacks on Christians. Reactions in Lebanon, the Levant, and the world haven’t been sufficient”, adding that a similar disappointing response followed the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in April. The minister proposed both prayer and large-scale peaceful demonstrations to express outrage over the targeting of Christians in the Syrian Civil War.
9 December 2013
The Daily Star (Lebanon)
How many destroyed churches (and loyalist mosques) must there be before the West stops aiding the Islamist rebels? Remember, bin Laden took Langley‘s shilling, and Langley FREELY offered it. Let’s not make the same mistake twice…
Amidst the calamities besetting Syria and the bloodshed afflicting our people and amidst the uncertainty that still surrounds the fate of our Metropolitans Boulos and Youhanna in Aleppo, it’s with deep pain that the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East received news of the abduction of her daughters, nuns and orphans of the Monastery of Mar Tekla in Ma’loula on 2 December 2013, and their being transported to Yabroud. Because our first attempts to get the release of our abducted daughters didn’t achieve the desired outcome, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East calls upon the international community and all governments to intervene and make efforts to release them safely. She likewise calls upon the conscience of all humanity and upon the spark of living conscience that the Creator, may He be exalted, sowed in the souls of all those who worship God, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters, the nuns and the girls of the orphanage.
Our appeal to the international community… although we’re grateful for all the feelings of solidarity, we no longer need denunciation, condemnations, or “feelings of concern” about the assault on human dignity that’s occurring, because all this is engraved in the conscience of every one of us. Today, however, we need concrete actions, not words. We don’t want voices of condemnation from decision-makers, whether regional or international, but rather efforts, pressure, and action leading to the release of those whose only fault was their clinging to their monastery and refusing to leave it.
We reiterate our call to stop the logic of conflict in Syria and replace it with the logic of peaceful dialogue and not to use stalling the start of dialogue to make gains on the ground because Syria is bleeding, and with her, too, our hearts bleed. Let all know that one drop of innocent blood shed on this earth is holier and more precious than all the slogans in the world. Let all understand that the bells of our churches, we the Christians of the Middle East, which were hung and rang in time immemorial, shall continue to ring out and be heard as the sound of our love and our peace for others, with their various religions, throughout the world.
The cruelty of the present days shall not uproot us from our land, because it’s our being, our essence, and a piece of our heart. Given the new circumstances exemplified by the abduction of the nuns and orphans of Ma’loula, with regret, we announce the suspension of our official patriarchal pastoral visit to our children and parishes in the countries of the Arabian Gulf, which we scheduled between 6-17 December 2013, and our return to Damascus to follow closely all efforts and communications related to this latest incident. I greet all of our children in those countries and all those who laboured to prepare the schedule for the visit. I hope that my visit to them would be at the nearest opportunity. You, our children in the Gulf, you, whose sweet and honoured faces, dear to my heart, I was eagerly looking forward to meeting tomorrow, I apologise to you all for suspending this visit after you had made all arrangements for its success. I pray for your health, blessing, and success.
May God protect Syria, Lebanon, and the Middle East, and the people of the Middle East. Thank you to the media who’ve made it possible for the entire world to hear Antioch’s pain and for all to hear of Antioch’s hope.
5 December 2013
His Holiness Youhanna al-Yazigi
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
On Sunday, an activist group and two pro-government TV stations reported that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad secured the highway that links Damascus with northern Syria, paving the way for the potential shipment of chemical weapons overland to a Mediterranean port for destruction abroad. Last month, government troops launched an offensive in the rugged Qalamoun region north of Damascus, trying to secure the main north-south highway that runs through the area and to cut rebel supply lines that crisscross the mountainous terrain. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said that fighting in the area had left the road cut for nearly three weeks, but that government forces reopened the road Sunday after seizing control of most of the contested town of Nabek located along the highway, saying, “It’s open, but it isn’t secure”, adding that the route remains “dangerous” because it’s still under rebel fire.
Two Lebanon-based, pro-Assad TV stations, al-Mayadeen and Hezbollah‘s al-Manar, reported that the Syrian Army secured the Damascus-Homs highway. Both stations have several reporters in Syria. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which heads the UN-backed mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile, said last week that it’d consider using the highway to transport Syria’s arsenal to the port of Latakia to take the weapons out of the country for destruction. Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint UN/OPCW mission in Syria, said that she recently visited the port of Latakia by helicopter, as the highway wasn’t open, saying, “To get the material to port, it’s necessary that the roads are open and are safe and secure to use”. The UN/OPCW team in Syria intends to remove the most toxic chemicals from Syria by the end of the year for destruction at sea and destroy the entire stockpile by mid-2014. Sunday’s fighting focused on the town of Nabek near the Lebanese border.
The SOHR said that Syrian troops backed by members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah managed to capture most of the town in heavy fighting. Both al-Mayadeen and al-Manar aired videos from inside the town showing bodies of fighters in the streets as well as four booby-trapped vehicles. The SOHR said that the bodies of three children, a woman, and a young man shot dead in Nabek were brought Sunday afternoon to the nearby town of Yabroud. It said that government forces killed them. Opposition activist Hadi Abdullah posted a photo on his Twitter account showing two boys and a girl who he said were killed in Nabek.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah announced that two of its members, including a local commander, were killed whilst “performing their jihadi duties”. The group didn’t say where the men died, although it’s widely believed to have been in Syria. Leaflets handed out in the southern port city of Sidon identified the two as Khalil Diaa and local commander Ali Bazzi. A photo distributed in Sidon of Bazzi, showed a man with a white beard wearing a camouflage military uniform and a green beret. Also in Lebanon, on Sunday, the Lebanese Army captured seven Syrians who had weapons with them as they tried to cross the border. Lebanon’s National News Agency said that Lebanese authorities detained three Syrians near the Lebanese border town of Arsal whilst on their way to Qalamoun. It said the arrest happened after midnight Sunday; the Syrians carried light weapons and telecommunications equipment. Later, the Lebanese Army issued a statement saying that troops detained another four Syrians who were trying to cross from Syria to Lebanon in a car with no license plate. It said the soldiers found weapons, including several hand grenades, in the car. The army said they detained the four near Arsal after they crossed into Lebanon.
8 December 2013
On Wednesday, Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov said that he’s forming a special security unit in Chechnya to deal with Syrian radicals both domestically and abroad, if necessary. Kadyrov said that the move came as a response to many online videos in which Islamists battling government forces in Syria threatened to move to the North Caucasus when the Syrian Civil War is over and engage in terrorist and subversive activities in the volatile region. He said that both the government and residents of Chechnya were getting increasingly concerned about those threats and consider them a serious challenge to their security, saying, “We aren’t going to listen to those threats and watch this plague encroaching on the Russian border. That’s why [Chechnya’s] law enforcement agencies and administration are taking an array of preventive measures”. Kadyrov said that members of the special unit would be ready to interfere in the Syrian conflict, if President Vladimir Putin authorises such operation, adding, “On an order from the commander-in-chief, the unit would be ready to start neutralising in their lairs those in Syria who threaten Russia”.
5 December 2013
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MID) and the MP demanded the release of a group of nuns reportedly captured by Islamist rebels at an ancient convent in Syria. On Monday, armed men broke into the Greek Orthodox convent of Mar Tekla in the village of Ma’loula, some 50 kilometres from the Syrian capital of Damascus, and took away the nuns. There was some confusion over the number of women involved and whether the rebels took them hostage or had forcibly moved them away from the fighting in the village.
Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francisco Bergoglio called at his general audience on Wednesday for prayers for the nuns of Mar Tekla “who were taken away by force by armed men”. According to media reports, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, said that rebels took the 12 nuns to the town of Yabroud, some 80 kilometres north of the capital. The MID website reported that 13 nuns were missing, including the Superior, Mother Pelagia Sayyaf. SANA said that Mother Pelagia was one of six nuns trapped in the convent.
Konstantin Dolgov, the human rights officer at the MID in Moscow, urged the international community and NGOs to condemn the incident, which increased fears over the safety of Syrian Christians. On Wednesday, Dolgov wrote in his Twitter account, “We call on those who kidnapped the nuns to free them immediately safe and sound”. On Wednesday, the MP also condemned the “cynical act of extremists” in a statement and said that it was praying for the safe release of the nuns. It expressed “full solidarity” with Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East, who appealed in a statement for “the kidnappers” to free the nuns and a group of orphans that lived at the convent. Frequently, extremist Islamist insurgents amongst the rebel groups fighting for almost three years against the régime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad target Syria’s Christian minority. Previously, rebels kidnapped two bishops and a priest, but this is the first incident involving nuns.
4 December 2013