Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Russian Soldiers Protect Children that Speak Jesus’ Language in Syria

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Ma’loula in Syria is one of the last bastions of the language used by our Lord Jesus Christ… Aramaic. Ma’loula sprawls in a gorge between mountains, amidst the sands of the Syrian desert. This ancient city endured wars and other troubles over the ages. Ma’loula is unique as it has one of the world’s most ancient Christian monasteries, Mar Taqla Monastery. The Church of Ss Sergius and Taqla had many icons painted in the old canonical Orthodox style. St Taqla was an ancient Christian saint, one of the forerunners of female monasticism, who knew the Apostle Paul himself. In fact, she was his student. People in Ma’loula still speak amongst themselves the old Syriac dialect of Aramaic… the native language of Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Sadly, the conflict in Syria didn’t spare ancient Ma’loula. Terrorists desecrated Christian shrines, they stole holy Icons, and they took her people captive or put them to the sword, tortured and destitute of their former serene glory, of which the world wasn’t worthy. However, thanks to Russia, peace is returning in measure to Syria, and after they liberated towns from Western-backed “moderate” decapitators, Russian officers from the Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides came with humanitarian aid in their hands. Russian troops brought over three tonnes of humanitarian aid to orphans in the city. Rita Bakhba, a monastic novice at the monastery, said:

Before the liberation of Ma’loula, militants plundered the church. They stole 26 icons. We recovered one depicting the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. We saw the tragic result of vandalism… they covered their faces with plaster (the Ottoman Turks used this method against icons). They also desecrated and destroyed the altar (altars are the most sacred part of Orthodox Churches, with a tabernacle in which Orthodox Christians believe the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are present in the Sacrament). However, thanks to the labours of our youth, we’re gradually restoring our church.

The Russian aid packages contained rice, sugar, canned meat, tea (a must for any Syrian or Russian), school bags, stationery, clothing, and personal hygiene items. They came in bags labelled “Syria… Russia is With You!” Military doctors assisted over 106 people, including 35 children. The children sang folk songs and something incredibly rare happened… they laughed. Their teachers had tears in their eyes, as during the years of the war, the sight of happy children was quite uncommon. The children hugged the soldiers, saying, “Shukraan Rusii” (Thank you, Russians). Departing Ma’loula, the Russian troops took with them not only a portion of the grace and holiness which flows from the city like water from a fountain but the warmth of the children’s hearts… who need love and care all the days of their lives.

31 January 2018

Nick Ivanov

Russia Feed

http://russiafeed.com/russian-soldiers-protect-children-speak-jesuss-language-syria/

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Saturday, 7 December 2013

7 December 2013. Ma’loula Roundup… Nuns Apparently Safe… For Now

00 Monastery of the Mother of God. Saidnaya SYRIA. 16.10.13

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The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East announced, “The five nuns from the Mar Tekla Monastery in Ma’loula now in Yabroud are in good condition; however, nothing’s known as yet as to why Islamist rebels took them or when they’d release them”. Islamist rebels held the five nuns… not 12 per first reports… since Monday, after bursting into the monastery and forcing them to go with them to Yabroud, some 80 kilometres north of Damascus. Now, 35 nuns remain at Mar Tekla. Meanwhile, in the small town, the cradle of Syrian Christianity, Islamist rebels started to burn all the houses owned by Christians. Local sources, anonymous for security reasons, said, “No one’s left in Ma’loula. These attacks sadden those who fled. Residents listen helplessly to reports about the destruction of their homes”. Sources noted that such actions result from “anti-Christian hatred by Muslim extremists” and are “unrelated to the war”. In recent days, extremists led by Jabhat al-Nusra fighters posted graphic videos of their attacks and summary executions on social networks.

4 December 2013

AsiaNews

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Maaloula-sisters-in-Yabrud,-Greek-Orthodox-Patriarchate-reports-29720.html

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The Vatican reported that opposition rebels abducted 12 nuns when they captured the historically-Christian town of Ma’loula on Monday. Most observers believe that most of the town’s Christian population fled after clashes between government forces and rebels in September, leaving a mainly-Muslim population behind. The 40 nuns of the Orthodox Mar Tekla convent were the major exception, until rebels abducted 12 on Monday. Reportedly, the insurgents took the nuns to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. Today, Mother Febronia Nabhan, the Superior at the Saidnaya Convent, told the Associated Press that three other women accompanied the nuns who left. Mother Febronia said that the Ma’loula convent’s Superior, Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, called her later on Monday and said that they were all “fine and safe”.

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, told Vatican Radio that gunmen abducted the nuns on Monday afternoon, although he said that he didn’t know the reason behind the kidnapping. Later, the BBC quoted rebel media sources, which said that the nuns “hadn’t been abducted”; the rebels warned them to leave Ma’loula for their own safety, but they refused. Archbishop Mario said that the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, the authority over the convent, “called on all Catholics to pray for the women”.

Ma’loula, 60 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of Damascus is a symbol of Syria‘s ancient Christian roots, where the people still speak Aramaic… the language spoken by Jesus. Rebels recaptured the town after three days of fighting. It’s a strategic location on the road between Damascus and Homs; today, reports said that parts of this road are closed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based opposition group, said that the rebel group included Islamist fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Ramid Abdurrahman, the SOHR director, said that the opposition had control of the town and that there was now “no major fighting”.

In September, rebels killed three Catholic men when they seized control of Ma’loula. Government forces quickly retook the town, but by that stage, most of the Christians had fled. NGOs report that when Islamist-dominated opposition groups take control of towns and villages, Christians are under severe threat. Next week, a group plans to present a petition at the UN; it has over 270,000 signatures. On behalf of Syrian Christians, It urges that all those with influence and power do everything possible to:

  • Protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of all the people of Syria
  • Safeguard the existence of the Christian community, and, in particular, stop the assaulting, kidnapping, torture and killing of Christians by extremist and criminal groups
  • Guarantee safe, fair, and proper access for all to humanitarian assistance, both inside and outside Syria
  • Make it possible for Christians to stay in and/or return safely to their homes without fear or threat of violence
  • Safeguard the right of Christians to to worship in peace and safety and allow them space to offer compassionate care and contribute to making peace

3 December 2013

Christian Today

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/12.nuns.abducted.as.rebels.recapture.maaloula/34910.htm

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On Wednesday, Pope Francisco Bergoglio called for prayers for 12 Orthodox nuns reportedly taken by force from their convent in Syria by rebels. Religious officials in the region said that rebels abducted the women, but a Syrian opposition activist said that rebels merely removed them for their own safety. The 12 nuns join two bishops and a priest already believed held by hardline rebels, deepening concerns that extremists in the opposition target Christians. Syria’s minorities, including Christians, largely sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s government or tried to stay on the sidelines of the civil war, fearing for their fate if the rebels, increasingly-dominated by Islamic extremists, come to power.

Speaking to a crowd gathered for the Pope’s general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Francisco invited “everyone to pray for the sisters of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Tekla in Ma’loula, Syria, taken by force by armed men two days ago. Let’s continue to pray and to work together for peace”. His appeal came as fighting raged in several parts of Syria including the northern city of Aleppo. Rami Abdurrahman of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that rebels firing mortar rounds at government-held neighbourhoods killed at least 17 people and wounded dozens more.

Activists also reported clashes in the Qalamoun region north of Damascus, an area that controls the smuggling routes from neighbouring Lebanon that help sustain rebel-held enclaves and it’s a key transportation corridor from the capital to the central city of Homs. The region boasts a sizeable Christian population and is home to the ancient Christian village of Ma’loula and its Mar Tekla convent. Church leaders and pro-rebel activists said that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra seized the nuns from Mar Tekla on Monday. Mother Febronia Nabhan, Superior of the Saidnaya Convent, said that the rebels took the nuns to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. There was no suggestion that the rebels entered Ma’loula specifically to seize the nuns.

Syria’s three-year-old conflict began with mostly peaceful demonstrations against Assad’s rule, but devolved into an armed insurgency after security forces violently cracked down on protesters. Increasingly, hardline Sunni Muslim elements dominate the rebellion and the conflict grows ever more sectarian. A Syrian opposition activist claimed that rebels took the nuns for their own safety because of heavy fighting nearby. However, the activist, who goes by the name Amer, said that rebels wouldn’t provide evidence of the nuns’ safety. He stated that the rebels placed the nuns with a Christian family in Yabroud, saying, “They’re being taken care of”. His said that his information came from friends close to the rebels holding the nuns.

However, a nun in a nearby convent insisted the rebels held the women against their will. Mother Stephanie Haddad, deputy of the Greek Orthodox Saidnaya Convent, told the Associated Press that she spoke to the nuns on Tuesday night. She said that the rebels guarding them in Yabroud kept promising them that they’d release them soon, “but nothing is certain”. Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi, pleaded for the release of the women on Tuesday. Ma’loula was a popular tourist attraction before the conflict began. Some of its residents still speak an Aramaic dialect, a language spoken by Jesus.

Abdurrahman of the SOHR said that al-Qaeda-linked rebels who control the northern town of ar-Raqqah, in another move that underscored the fears of beleaguered minorities, converted a church into a centre for proselytising their strict interpretation of Islam, and another into an administrative office. Previously, rebels of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’ash) set fires in the two churches and knocked the crosses off them, replacing them with the group’s black Islamic banner. Abdurrahman sent photographs of the Church of Armenian Martyrs, with a black Da’ash flag flying from where the cross once stood. Below, a black banner read, “The proselytising office, region of ar-Raqqah”.

4 December 2013

Nicole Winfield

Albert Aji

Associated Press

http://news.yahoo.com/pope-prays-syrian-nuns-held-rebels-173906096.html

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00 Patriarch Youhanna of Antioch with Pres al-Assad. 05.12.13

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On Thursday, Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East appealed to the international community to exert all possible efforts to secure the release of the 12 nuns rebels forced to evacuate a monastery in the Syrian town of Ma’loula. In a televised news conference, he said, “I appeal to the international community to exert all efforts to help secure the release of the abducted nuns from Mar Tekla Monastery in Ma’loula”, adding that information indicated that the rebels took the nuns to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. He said, “We don’t want the decision-making authorities on the international and regional levels to merely express condemnation, but to make efforts and to exert pressure to release those whose only sin is their love of their land and monastery”.

Patriarch Youhanna’s brother is one of two bishops kidnapped in Syria earlier this month. In April, armed men abducted Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos al-Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim whilst they were en route to the northern Syrian city from the Turkish border. Reportedly, they were on their way to negotiate the release of three priests who are also missing.

On Monday, rebels from the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra recaptured Ma’loula, north of Damascus, from government forces following heavy clashes. At the time of the recapture, the nuns were inside the convent and were amongst only a few residents left in the historic Christian town. Rebels forced the nuns to evacuate the covenant along with dozens of orphans trapped in the monastery since September. It wasn’t clear whether they were evacuated or kidnapped.

Patriarch Youhanna said that acts against Christians wouldn’t shake their commitment to their land, saying, “We Christians of the east tolled the bells of our churches in the past and we’ll keep on tolling them so that everyone could hear the love we have for others of different religions. The ruthlessness of the coming days won’t force us to abandon our land”, he added that such behaviour targets Christians and Muslims alike. Youhanna also said that he suspended a visit to various Gulf countries in light of the developments in Ma’loula.

5 December 2013

The Daily Star (Lebanon)

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Dec-05/240023-yazigi-urges-for-the-release-of-abducted-nuns.ashx

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On Friday, pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported that a Syrian rebel group calling itself “Free Qalamoun” claimed the kidnapping of 12 nuns and said it that wants to trade them for a 1,000 female detainees held by the government. Rebel spokesman Mohannad Abu al-Fidaa told the paper that the nuns were safe, but “we won’t release them until the government carries out several demands, most importantly, the release of 1,000 Syrian women held in its prisons”. Reuters couldn’t confirm the report.

An official at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East in Damascus said that the nuns were safe, but wouldn’t comment on which group abducted them. Generally, Syria’s Christian minority tried to stay on the sidelines of the sectarian conflict pitting majority Sunni Muslims against the Alawite minority. Many Christians fear the rise of hardline Islamist groups. according to the Vatican envoy to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, on Monday, Islamist fighters who captured the Christian village of Ma’loula north of Damascus moved the nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Tekla to the nearby town of Yabroud. The militants took the ancient quarter of Ma’loula on Monday after heavy fighting with government forces in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border. The fighting, which pits al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and other rebels against Assad’s forces, is part of a wider struggle for control of the Damascus-Homs highway in central Syria.

6 December 2013

Reuters

http://news.asiaone.com/news/world/syrian-rebel-group-demands-hostage-swap-abducted-nuns

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According to an account published Friday in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Syrian rebels demand the release of 1,000 female government detainees in exchange for the freedom of a group of Greek Orthodox nuns held by opposition forces. The proposed swap indicates that the nuns are now hostages… contradicting earlier opposition assertions that they evacuated the sisters for their own safety during heavy fighting early this week in Ma’loula, a Christian landmark town outside Damascus. Hostage-taking and kidnapping, often with sectarian overtones, have become defining characteristics of Syria’s more than 2-year-old civil conflict. The fate of two kidnapped Christian bishops, believed seized by opposition forces in April, remains publicly unknown.

On Friday, in a video broadcast on al-Jazeera, several of the nuns took turns speaking and appeared in good health, although it wasn’t possible to verify the footage’s authenticity . The Associated Press reported that the nuns said they went with the rebels for their personal safety. Generally, security analysts consider such videos suspect because captives might be speaking under duress. One of the nuns said in the video, “We’re 13 nuns and three civilians, and we’re here in a very, very nice villa, but we’re going to leave in two days”.

A spokesman for a rebel group identified as the Ahrar al-Qalamoun Brigade told the newspaper that they wouldn’t release the nuns until the government carried out several demands, most importantly, that the authorities had to free 1,000 female prisoners held in Syrian prisons. The rebel spokesman, identified as Mohannad Abu al-Fidaa, said, “The nuns are in a safe place”, although he declined to give more detail. The spokesman described the conditions for the nuns’ release as “joint demands” from his faction and another rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaeda. The captors also demanded that the government suspend its sieges on a number of rebel strongholds, including several suburbs of Damascus.

Published reports indicated that rebels seized a dozen nuns during fighting between rebel and government forces in Ma’loula, a historic and mostly Christian town north of Damascus, which has been the site of intense combat. The nuns were from 40 sisters who resided at the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Tekla, named after an early Christian saint who was a disciple of St Paul the Apostle. Government authorities accused “terrorists” of kidnapping the nuns from the monastery at gunpoint and holding them hostage. Opposition spokesmen said that they moved the nuns for safety reasons amidst heavy government shelling. The exact number of nuns taken from the monastery and whether any remained at the convent in Ma’loula remained uncertain. Also unclear is the fate of as many as 21 orphans said to have been in the nuns’ care at the monastery. The fate of several workers from the site also is unclear.

The case caused deep consternation among Christian communities in the Middle East and worldwide, with Christian and Muslim religious leaders pleading for the nuns’ release. On Wednesday, Pope Francisco Bergoglio called for prayers on behalf of the Syrian nuns “taken by force by armed men”. The seizure of the nuns heightened fears amongst Syria’s Christian minority that Islamist rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad are targeting them. Generally, most observers see Christians and other Syrian minorities as being supportive of the government. On Friday, the Lebanese national news service reported that Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Azmi Mikati contacted Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East, and said that the abductions of the nuns “doesn’t reflect in any way the teachings of the Islamic religion, nor does it mirror the human and spiritual values of Muslims”.

6 December 2013

Patrick McDonnell

Nabih Bulos

Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-syria-nuns-hostages-20131206,0,6881412.story

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A group of Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns reportedly seized by rebels from a convent near Damascus denied in a video broadcast Friday that the rebels kidnapped them and said that they were in a safe place. It was the first appearance by the nuns, whose alleged Monday abduction increased concerns about the treatment that hardliners amongst the rebels meted out to Christians, particularly, as the fighting engulfed more Christian villages in recent months.

Also on Friday, an international watchdog said that it’s verified the destruction of all of Syria’s declared stocks of unfilled munitions for delivering chemical agents, another milestone along the road to eradicating President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that its experts in Syria also verified destruction of weapons production facilities. The latest destruction work was near Homs… sites that the OPCW said were inaccessible due to security reasons. The Syrian Army advanced against the rebels, and on Monday, troops reopened the highway linking Damascus with the central city of Homs. The highway is a key road leading to Syria’s coast and could open the way for transporting the country’s chemical weapons to the port of Latakia for transport outside the country for destruction.

The joint UN/OPCW team in Syria aims to remove most chemical weapons from Syria by the end of the year for destruction at sea and destroy the entire stockpile by mid-2014. The unprecedented disarmament in the midst of a civil war began following a 21 August chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians. The USA and its Western allies accused the Syrian government of being responsible for that attack, whilst Damascus blamed the rebels. Syria joined the OPCW and agreed to dismantle its chemical arsenal to ward off possible American military strikes. In another positive development for the mission, Denmark and Norway confirmed that they’d offer to help transport “chemical warfare agents” out of Syria using specialised cargo vessels and naval frigates. Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende and acting Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Rasmus Helveg Petersen said in a joint statement, “The use of chemical weapons is a threat to international peace and security. Removal of these heinous weapons from Syria is a critical task for the international community”. Earlier, both countries said that they’d help ship the chemicals, but the announcement highlighted that the Scandinavian neighbours are planning a joint mission led by Denmark. Both countries said that they’d have to “complete relevant national procedures before the operation could begin”.

In a video aired by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel Friday, the Greek Orthodox nuns appeared healthy. They sat on sofas in a “villa” at an undisclosed location, and took turns speaking, saying the rebels escorted them out of Ma’loula to keep them safe from shelling. One of them said to the camera, “The brothers treat us well, they’ve brought us from the convent here, and we’re very happy”. The video appeared authentic, but it was impossible to verify it independently or to know if the nuns were speaking under duress. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and religious officials said that rebels took the Orthodox nuns and three civilians from the Mar Tekla convent in Ma’loula after rebels overran the village, and were keeping them in the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. Pope Francisco Bergoglio called for prayers for the nuns.

Christians and other minorities tend to support Assad, who comes from a Shi’ite offshoot sect. They are concerned about the rising role of al-Qaeda-linked groups in the rebel movement, dominated by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority. Many accuse the hardliners of vandalising churches and abducting several clerics. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Laham of Antioch, commenting on the video, thanked all who contributed to making the nuns comfortable, but said, “Real comfort would be in their homes”. Lebanon’s official National News Agency published his comments.

According to the state news agency SANA and activists, on Friday, a suicide car bomber detonated explosives near a building manned by paramilitary forces in a mainly Kurdish town in northeastern Syria, killing at least five people. The blast in Qamishli follows clashes between Kurdish gunmen and Islamic militant groups led by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that left hundreds of people dead in recent months. Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s 23 million people. SANA said that the explosion occurred on a crowded street in Qamishli, which is in al-Hasakah Governorate, killing six people and wounding 30. The SOHR, which has a network of activists around the country, said the attack targeted a building manned by pro-government gunmen from the National Defence Force. It said the blast killed at least five and wounded 10. The SOHR said that it isn’t clear if the dead were members of the National Defence Force.

6 December 2013

Albert Aji

Zeina Karam

Associated Press

http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-nuns-taken-rebels-appear-video-180023654.html

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

4 December 2013. Roundup on the Latest from Ma’loula…

00 Syrian nun in Ma'aloula. 08.09.13

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Editor’s Note:

Do read ALL of this. I collated all the news that I could on this from reputable sources. It’s all in one spot so that you can look at it all easily and compare it, so that you can come to a reasonable conclusion. That’s what reporters do. That’s why Fox News isn’t “news”… it doesn’t give “all reputable sources”. Do think on that.

BMD

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According to local sources, Islamist rebels broke into Mar Tekla Orthodox Convent in Ma’loula near Damascus; they hold Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and a number of nuns hostage. The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that the rebel militias also committed acts of vandalism in the town’s neighbourhoods 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 protecting it. Reports say that before the latest outbreak of violence the girls from the orphanage and the younger nuns under the age of 60 relocated to a safer place. The Mother Superior and the older nuns chose to stay and their whereabouts aren’t certain.

Syrian Relief and Social Affairs Minister, Kinda al-Shammat, voiced concern over the reports and called on the international community to pressure countries supporting the terrorists to release the hostages, along with all those kidnapped held by terrorists in Syria. In recent weeks, fighting intensified between Syrian government forces and rebel militias. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organisation close to anti-Assad forces, confirmed that the rebels took control of Ma’loula, but didn’t mention the hostage-taking of the nuns in the convent.

In September, the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group, invaded Ma’loula and attacked Christian homes and churches. At that time, around 40 nuns and orphaned children at Mar Tekla holed up in the convent. Ma’loula, with a population of 3,000, is one of the last places where Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, is still used. Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus, confirmed to AsiaNews the abduction of 12 nuns from Mar Tekla convent.

2 December 2013

Zenit News Agency

http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/mother-superior-and-nuns-held-hostage-in-syria-say-reports

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On Monday, a security source said that Syrian rebels moved into the centre of the historic Christian town of Ma’loula after sending explosive-filled tyres hurtling down on security forces deployed there. The rebels, including jihadists from the al-Nusra Front, sent tyres packed with explosives rolling down from positions in the cliffs above the town. The Syrian state news agency SANA said that the rebels entered the Orthodox Mar Tekla convent, in the middle of the city, previously under Syrian Army control. The convent is home to some 40 nuns and orphans, some of the few residents of the town who remained after rebels first entered in September, prompting fierce fighting with the army.

The picturesque town is a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria, and its 5,000 residents are amongst the few remaining speakers of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed that rebels took part of Ma’loula after five days of fighting. The renewed clashes in the town came as the régime battles to gain control of a string of nearby strategic towns and villages along the Damascus-Homs highway, north of the capital. It has recaptured the town of Qara and Deir Attiyeh, and government troops now battle rebels for control of Nabak. Government forces seek to encircle the rebels in the Qalamoun region north of Damascus and sever opposition supply lines across the nearby border with Lebanon.

Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said that rebel fighters took a weapons depot in the southern province of Deraa after several days of fighting. In video distributed by the Observatory, one can see a rebel trampling the severed head of a soldier killed in the fighting. Meanwhile, in the Golan Heights, the Observatory reported heavy fighting in the Khan Arnabah and Sama Daniah areas. The clashes came as witnesses said a mortar fired from Syrian side of the ceasefire line with Israel had landed outside the town of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights. An IDF source said that there’d also been small arms fire in the central Golan towards Israeli troops during the morning. She said, “Troops returned fire and confirmed a hit”, without giving further details.

2 December 2013

Agence France-Presse    

http://news.yahoo.com/syria-rebels-send-tyre-bombs-hurtling-down-army-160527544.html

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00 War in Syria. No Way No How. wrecked Syrian church. 06.09.13

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On Monday, state-run news agency SANA said that Islamist fighters in Syria took over the ancient quarter of the Christian town of Ma’loula; they hold several nuns in a monastery there. Fighting for the town, about five kilometres (3.2 miles) from the main road linking Damascus to Homs, is part of a wider struggle between rebel fighters and government forces for control of the strategic central Syrian highway. On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front captured the old quarter of Ma’loula after several days of fighting. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said that he couldn’t confirm the SANA report that al-Nusra fighters stormed the Mar Tekla Greek Orthodox monastery and were holding several nuns captive. However, he said that the monastery is in the old part of Ma’loula, which is now under the control of the al-Nusra Front and other rebels. Abdulrahman said that four rebel fighters died in fierce fighting on Monday as the army and pro-Assad militia fought to retake the district. Restrictions by the Syrian government make it difficult to verify accounts from inside the country.

The town was the scene of heavy fighting in September, when it changed hands four times in a series of attacks and counter-assaults by rebels and government forces. At the time, the Mother Superior at Mar Tekla denied reports circulated by pro-government groups that rebels pillaged Christian sites. The latest fighting coincides with a government offensive to secure other towns on the road from Damascus to Homs and Assad’s Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean. Control of the road would help secure Assad’s grip over central Syria, and would also enable safe passage for hundreds of tons of chemical munitions due to be shipped out of the country by the end of the year for destruction.

The fighting prevented the head of the international mission overseeing the elimination of those weapons from going by road from Damascus to the port of Latakia during a visit last week. Sigrid Kaag, head of a joint UN/Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission, said that she had to travel by helicopter instead. She told delegates of the OPCW at Den Haag, “Security remains a key challenge for all. The destruction of a chemical weapons programme has never taken place under such challenging and dangerous conditions”.

In the last fortnight, Assad’s forces extended their control in Qara and Deir Attiyah, two towns near the road, and fought to take a third, Nabak. On Monday, state television said that the army “completely eliminated armed terrorist groups” around Deir Attiyah and Nabak. The Observatory’s Abdulrahman said that rebels were still in part of Nabak, but the western sector of the town, which is closest to the Damascus-Homs road, was under army control.

Before Syria’s 2-1/2-year-old conflict erupted, Ma’loula attracted both Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Some of its residents still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, and the monastery of Mar Tekla had a reputation for miraculous cures. Syrian Christians, about 10 percent of the population, are wary of the rising power of Islamist groups within the rebel movement. So far, a small percentage of Christians have taken up arms in a civil war that broadly pits minorities, in particular Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, against the Sunni Muslim majority.

2 December 2013

Dominic Evans

Alistair Lyon

Reuters

http://news.yahoo.com/islamists-syrian-christian-town-monastery-state-media-160330143.html

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On Monday, according to a Vatican source, Syrian rebels moved into the centre of the historic Christian town of Ma’loula and forcibly abducted a dozen Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns. Vatican Radio, citing the Holy See’s ambassador to Syria, Mario Zenari, said that the 12 were apparently taken north to the town of Yabroud. He said, “We don’t know the reasons behind this act by the armed opposition. It’s a kidnapping or an act of control over the monastery in order to free their hand in Ma’loula”. Zenari hinted that he hesitated to label the nuns hostages. However, opposition sources denied that the nuns were hostages, claiming that rebels from the mainstream Free Syrian Army were trying to protect the women amid intensive shelling by government troops located near the town. The sources said that the rebels were still in the convent with the nuns and that the shelling and sniping by government troops prevented their attempts to evacuate them.

A security source told AFP that the rebels advanced on Ma’loula after sending explosive-filled tires hurtling down on security forces there. The picturesque town is a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria, and its 5,000 residents are amongst the few remaining speakers of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. According to opposition sources and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, four other smaller rebel groups joined the al-Nusra Front in the campaign.

Syrian state news agency SANA said that the rebels entered the Orthodox Mar Tekla convent, in the middle of the city, previously controlled by government forces, saying, “Local sources said that terrorists broke into the convent, taking Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and other nuns hostage”. The convent is home to some 40 nuns and orphans, some of the few residents of the town who remained after rebels first entered in September, prompting fierce fighting with the army. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent letters to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council charging that the rebels were ransacking churches in the town, and called on the international community to intervene. The Observatory confirmed that rebels had taken the entire town after five days of fighting.

The renewed clashes in the town come as the régime battles to gain control of a string of nearby strategic towns and villages along the Damascus-Homs highway, north of the capital. Government forces recaptured the town of Qara and Deir Atiya, and government troops are now battling rebels for control of Nabak. Government forces seek to encircle the rebels in the Qalamoun region, north of Damascus, and sever opposition supply lines across the nearby border with Lebanon. Opposition sources said the main Homs-Damascus highway remained cut for the 13th straight day, and that the rebels destroyed several government vehicles during the fierce fighting, which saw government troops shell a number of towns in the Qalamoun region.

In Genève, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that evidence uncovered in Syria implicates Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and members of his entourage in war crimes and crimes against humanity {Pillay went to Harvard for graduate study, which explains her pro-Western stance. She’s become a reliable “establishment” figure, favouring all the right “fashionable causes”, since the end of apartheid: editor}. She said that a UN commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Syria “produced massive evidence … [of] very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity. The evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state”. The commission, tasked with probing rights violations since shortly after the conflict erupted in March 2011, has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of crimes against humanity and war crimes. It said that the rebels fighting Assad’s regime are also guilty of war crimes.

However, the four-member team, headed by Brazilian Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, and including former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, never named names, nor pointed directly at Assad. The investigators, who without access to Syria relied on more than 2,000 interviews in the surrounding region or by phone or Skype for their reports, put together a long list of suspected perpetrators. Pillay told reporters in Genève that the names “remain sealed until I’m requested to furnish them to a credible investigation, whether it’s a national investigation or international investigation”. Meanwhile, she reiterated her call for the case to be handed over to the International Criminal Court in Den Haag to ensure accountability, saying, “The scale of viciousness of the abuses perpetrated by elements on both sides almost defies belief”.

The Observatory said that at least 32 civilians and 24 rebel fighters were killed Monday around the country, while giving a preliminary figure of 88 dead amongst government troops. The fiercest clashes were in the province of Rural Damascus, where Qalamoun is located. The Observatory said six civilians and 17 rebel fighters were killed there. It added that a state terror court executed 12 civilians in Damascus. Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said that rebel fighters took a weapons depot in the southern province of Deraa after several days of fighting. Observers and pro-opposition social media networks hailed the uptick in rebel activity in Deraa as well as in the province of Quneitra, on the border with Israel. A rebel coalition in Quneitra claimed a series of victories in recent days, taking small army posts in villages in the province. In Syria’s other southern province, as-Suwayda, the Observatory said that the al-Nusra Front was responsible for killing at least one officer, a lieutenant, and possibly a general in an attack, but didn’t provide details about the incident. During the course of the war, as-Suwayda has seen a very small number of rebel actions.

 3 December 2013

The Daily Star (Lebanon)

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Dec-03/239723-rebels-retake-christian-town-of-maaloula.ashx

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00 Syrian Church 2012

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Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo SJ of Aleppo in Syria said that the kidnapping of five Orthodox nuns from a Christian village near Damascus shocked Syrian Christians and filled many with fear. Speaking Tuesday to Vatican Radio, Bishop Antoine said that the latest information is that the superior and four of the nuns belonging to the Orthodox Monastery of Mar Tekla in Ma’loula were kidnapped during the night Sunday and taken to Yabrud, a city nearby. He said, “We have no more information”. Most media reports on the kidnapping, including by the government’s SANA news agency, speculated the kidnapping was the work of the al-Nusra Front, which the US State Department defines as a terrorist organisation linked to al-Qaeda. Early reports said that opposition fighters kidnapped 12 nuns.

Bishop Antoine told Vatican Radio, “Ma’loula is an important symbol not only for Christians, but also for Muslims in Syria and throughout the Middle East, because it’s known that the people there still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. That’s one of the reason people are so struck” by the kidnapping of the sisters and the rebels’ capturing the town in early December. As for the motive of the kidnapping, Bishop Antoine said, “The first reason is the war. As Christians, as the church in Syria, we don’t want to say this is a war against Christians because we want to be a presence for reconciliation and coexistence. That’s our vocation. We don’t want to create provocations with Muslims”. However, he said, Christians feel more threatened now because the kidnapping brought the war “to a sacred Christian place, one where for centuries nothing like this has happened”. Ma’loula is about 35 miles (56 kilometres) north of Damascus, the capital of Syria.

 3 December 2013

Cindy Wooden

Catholic News Service

http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/syrian-bishop-says-nuns-kidnapping-shocks-frightens-christians

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On Tuesday, Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East said that opposition fighters abducted 12 nuns from a Christian village overrun by rebels, adding to fears that hardline Muslim rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad were increasingly targeting Christians. The nuns join two bishops and a priest previously kidnapped by rebels. Syria’s minorities, including Christians, mostly side with Assad or stay neutral in Syria’s civil war, fearing for their fate if the rebels, increasingly dominated by Islamic extremists, come to power. Christians accused radicals among the rebels of abusing residents and vandalising churches after taking Christian towns. Mother Febronia Nabhan, superior of the nearby Saidnaya Convent, said that the nuns and three other women were seized Monday from the Greek Orthodox Mar Tekla convent in the village of Ma’loula and taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud, which also has a large Christian population.

Patriarch Youhanna made a fervent plea for the release of the women, as well as some two dozen orphans the nuns care for at the convent, although it couldn’t be immediately confirmed that the children were also taken, saying, “We appeal to the seed of conscience that God planted in all humans, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters safely. We call upon the international community and world governments to (help secure the) release of nuns of Mar Tekla convent and the orphans who’re being held since yesterday”. Mother Febronia told the AP that the Ma’loula convent’s superior, Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, called her late Monday from Yabroud and said the nuns and the other women were all safe. She made no mention of the orphans. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said that he fate of the nuns is unknown, adding there were conflicting reports on whether they were taken to a nearby area or not. The Observatory said that it received information late Monday saying that the nuns “are still alive”. It gave no further details.

On Monday, Syrian rebels captured large parts of Ma’loula, some 40 miles (64 kilometres) northeast of the capital, after three days of fighting. Activists say that the rebels who stormed the town included members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra or al-Nusra Front. In September, rebels seized parts of Ma’loula, only to have government forces drive them out within a few days. The town was a major tourist attraction before the conflict began in March 2011. Some of its residents still speak Aramaic, a biblical language spoken by Jesus. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said, “Terrorists broke into the Mar Tekla convent and held the superior, Mother Pelagia, and a number of other nuns as hostages and sabotaged churches and houses”. It urged the international community to condemn the attack. In two letters sent to the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General late Monday, the Ministry said, “Syria’s facing a barbarian war launched by extremist … gangs targeting its present and future”. It urged the Security Council to condemn the attack on Ma’loula in “the strongest terms” and exert pressure on the countries supporting the rebels to stop providing them with logistical and financial support.

The nuns are the latest Christian clergy abducted by the rebels. Gunmen seized two bishops in rebel-held areas in April, and an Italian Jesuit priest, Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing in July after travelling to meet militants in ar-Raqqah. There’s been no news of them since. Al-Qaeda-linked militants, who seized control of ar-Raqqah in March, set fires to churches and knocked the crosses off them, replacing them with the group’s black Islamic banner. Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army, denounced the behaviour of some groups in Ma’loula, but blamed the government for placing tanks and other military hardware inside the village. Speaking to al-Arabiya, he said that rebels went into Ma’loula not for sectarian reasons but because of its strategic location.

In other violence, Syria’s state TV reported that a suicide attacker blew himself up in central Damascus, killing four people and wounding 17 others. The TV gave no further details about the blast in the central Jisr Abyad neighbourhood and didn’t say what the target was. Such blasts in Damascus aren’t uncommon; they’ve killed scores of people in the city. Meanwhile, government troops continued their advance in the western town of Nabek after they captured most of it Monday and reopened the highway linking Damascus with the central city of Homs. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said that although the road is open, it’s still dangerous because of fighting in nearby areas. The highway is a key road leading to Syria’s coast and could open the way for transporting Syrian chemical weapons to the port of Latakia before shipment out of the country for destruction. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons aims to destroy Syria’s entire chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014.

Meanwhile, across the border in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Lebanese troops began deploying in areas between pro- and anti-Assad groups after four days of fighting that left a dozen people dead and more than 100 wounded. The Tuesday deployment came a day after the government authorised the army to take charge of security in Lebanon’s second-largest city for six months. The army said in a statement that it detained 21 people from both sides.

3 December 2013

Albert Aji

Bassem Mroue

Associated Press

http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-patriarch-urges-release-abducted-nuns-151035521.html

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00 The face of the Syrian opposition. 27.10.13

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Islamist fighters moved the nuns abducted from a convent in the predominantly-Christian town of Ma’loula to a nearby town held by rebels. Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East, the First Hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, called on the international community to help save them. On Tuesday, the Vatican envoy to Syria, Bishop Mario Zenari, said that 12 nuns, including the convent’s superior, were taken from Ma’loula to the rebel-held town of Yabroud, some 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) away. Zenari told Reuters from Damascus by telephone, “They forced the sisters to evacuate and to follow them towards Yabroud”, adding that he didn’t know for what purposes they’d done it. Zenari also said that the nuns were amongst the last residents remaining in Ma’loula after most fled south to Damascus.

On Monday, Syrian state television reported that rebels abducted several nuns from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Tekla after Islamists captured the ancient part of the town and attacked the convent. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent letters to the head of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General urging the international community to condemn the rebel attack on Ma’loula and the convent, and to put pressure on the countries supporting the rebels. Patriarch Youhanna urged the international community on Tuesday to speak up in defence of Syrian Christians, saying, “We urge the UN and all governments to speak out in support of Christians in Syria and to take the steps required to free these nuns from capture”.

Mother Febronia Nabhan, the superior of another convent in Ma’loula, said that apart from the nuns, rebels took three young maids” from the convent on Monday. Mother Febronia told AFP that she talked with Mar Tekla’s superior, Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, on her phone Monday evening and was told that they were in Yabrud, which is located some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Damascus, “comfortably installed in a house”. Syrian state television reported that Christians held a service in Damascus on Monday to protest against the kidnapping of the nuns as well as for two bishops abducted near Aleppo in April.

A report by the pan-Arabic satellite TV channel al-Mayadeen said that the Syrian soldiers along with local militias were launching an operation to liberate Ma’loula. Reportedly, the rebels who attacked the town came over from the nearby town of Nabak, in which Syrian forces are carrying out anti-terrorist operations. The fighting in Ma’loula is part of a wider struggle between al-Qaeda linked fighters of the al-Nusra Front and the Syrian army for control of the strategic Damascus-Homs highway, which passes close by the town. Ma’loula was the scene of heavy fighting in September. Many consider it one of the birthplaces of Christianity and its home to a number of shrines and monasteries listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

According to Patriarch Gregorios Laham of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the civil war that began in March 2011 forced some 450,000 Syrian Christians out of their homes. He added that the fighting damaged or destroyed at least 57 Christian sites” since the beginning of hostilities, and he blamed the USA and its Western allies for aggravating the situation by assisting the rebels. Many see Christians, who’re about 10 percent of Syria’s population, as supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, fearing the Islamist ideology of some rebels. This has made them the target of attacks. Fr Sami Housni, a Christian priest in Damascus told RT, “I believe it’s all systematic and planned. Forcing Christians to leave… for instance, in Iraq, less than 200,000 Christians remain. We do have concerns; we do hope to stick to our land… Syria, which is the cradle of Christianity. We also hope that the Pope and heads of Christian denominations shall call for denouncing violence and adopting dialogue”.

 3 December 2013

RT

http://rt.com/news/syria-islamists-kidnap-nuns-663/

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Islamist rebels kidnapped a group of nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Tekla in Ma’loula (north of Damascus). Mgr Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, confirmed the information after speaking with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East. Through the Vatican diplomat, the latter “calls on all Catholics to pray for the women religious”. Mgr Zenari said, “Armed men burst into the monastery of Mar Tekla in Ma’loula this afternoon. From there, they forcibly took 12 women religious”, citing a statement from the Patriarchate. Apparently, the group of Islamist rebels took them to Yabrud, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital. Neither the nuncio nor the Patriarchate know the reason behind the kidnapping.

Islamist Rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) invaded the small town on 5 September after driving out government troops with the support of al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Brigades. After taking control of the city, they went on a rampage against Christian buildings, killing three young Catholic men. More than 3,000 people, the town’s entire Christian population, fled their homes seeking refuge in Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of Damascus. Some found shelter with relatives in Lebanon or in local Greek Catholic convents. Only Muslims are left in town, plus 40 nuns at the Mar Tekla Monastery who stayed to help care for dozens of orphaned children.

As of yesterday, Ma’loula again became the scene of heavy fighting between the army and Syrian rebels, including many members of the extremist Jabhat-al-Nusra militia. Clashes are concentrated mostly in the upper oldest part of the town, where the Mar Tekla Greek Orthodox and the Ss Sergius and Bacchus Greek Catholic monasteries are located. From there, the rebels launched repeated attacks against army positions in the lower part of town. Fighting is intensifying, sources told AsiaNews. ”The army is trying to regain control over the villages north of Damascus. For this purpose, it’s launched a major offensive against the rebels, who’re trying to hold government forces back through a scorched-earth policy in the areas under their control”.

2 December 2013

Global Research News

http://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-islamist-rebels-abduct-12-nuns-from-orthodox-monastery-in-maaloula/5360101

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Also click here for more news and updates

 

Friday, 6 September 2013

MID Concerned Over Danger to Christian Holy Sites in Ma’loula and the Threatened Massacre of its Inhabitants

St Thecla Monastery

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On Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) expressed concern about the attempts of Syrian rebel forces to seize the city of Ma’loula, which is a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria. A statement from its Information Department stated, “The fact that terrorist attacks threaten Ma’loula distresses Moscow profoundly, as it’s a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria. It’s well to remember that its residents speak the almost-extinct Aramaic language, the language that Jesus Christ used for his sermons; some of the most ancient and revered Christian churches in the world are in this town”. The MID called for a general effort to bring the danger facing Ma’loula and its people to the world’s attention, “to make every possible effort to prevent violence to its inhabitants and to prevent the destruction of its Christian holy places. It’s necessary for us to put an end to terrorist attacks against it immediately. A particular responsibility for this threat is borne by those, both in the region and outside it, who, willingly or unwittingly, encouraged terrorists”.

6 September 2013

Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=52564

Editor’s Note:

This is the strongest language that the MID has used to date. Indeed, it condemns the actions of the USA and its Saudi ally in the strongest-possible diplomatic terms (the statement doesn’t name the two nations explicitly, but it doesn’t require deep thought to trick it out). The USA did similar evil in Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. It has to end… NOW.

NO WAR IN SYRIA… decency and humanity demand it.

BMD

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