Islamist fighters move 12 abducted Syrian nuns from Maaloula to rebel-held town

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Maaloula town

Islamist fighters have moved the nuns abducted from a convent in the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula to a nearby town held by rebels. The leader of the Orthodox Church of Antioch has called on the international community to help save them.

Vatican envoy to Syria, Mario Zenari, said on Tuesday that 12 nuns including the convent’s mother superior had been taken from Maaloula to the rebel held town of Yabroud, some 20 km away. “They forced the sisters to evacuate and to follow them towards Yabroud,” Zenari told Reuters from Damascus by telephone, adding that he did not know for what purposes it had been done.

Zenari also said that the nuns were among the last residents remaining in Maaloula after most had fled south to Damascus.

On Monday, Syrian state television reported that several nuns had been abducted from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Thecla 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 Maaloula and the convent, and to put pressure on the countries supporting the rebels.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, John X urged the international community on Tuesday to speak up in defense of Syria’s Christians.

“We urge the United Nations and all governments to speak out in support of Christians in Syria and to take the steps required to free these nuns from capture,” his statement says.

Febronia Nabhan, the mother superior of another convent in Maaloula, said that apart from the nuns, three “young maids” were taken from the convent on Monday.

Nabhan told the AFP that she talked with Mar Thecla’s mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, on her phone Monday evening and was told they were in Yabrud, which is located some 80km north of Damascus, “comfortably installed in a house.”

Syrian state television reported that Christians had held a service in Damascus, Monday, to protest against the kidnapping of the nuns as well as for two bishops who were 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 Maaloula.

The rebels who attacked the town reportedly came over from the nearby town of Nabak in which Syrian forces are carrying out anti-terrorist operations. 

The fighting in Maaloula is part of a wider struggle between Al-Qaeda linked fighters of the Nusra Front and the Syrian army for control of the strategic Damascus-Homs highway, which passes close by the town.

Maaloula was the scene of heavy fighting in September. It is considered to be one of the birthplaces of Christianity and is home to a number of shrines and monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites.

According to the Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, Gregory Laham, some 450,000 Syrian Christians have been forced from their homes by the civil war that began in March 2011. He added that “at least 57 Christian sites” have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of hostilities, and blamed the United States and its Western allies for aggravating the situation by providing assistance to the rebels.

Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Syria’s population, are viewed as supporters of President Bashar Assad, fearing the Islamist ideology of some rebels. This has made them the target of attacks.

“I believe it is all systematic and planned,” Sami Housni, a Christian priest in Damascus told RT. “Forcing Christians to leave… In Iraq, for instance, 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.”

source: Russia Today

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Syrian Christian reminds French FM that Syria is loyal to its ancestors

Here is a letter to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who recently said in an interview with Lebanon’s as-Safir newspaper: “I would like to say to the Christians of the East. France will not abandon them. We have confidence that the revolutions of 2011 are accompanied by an absolute vigilance of the importance of respect for human rights, especially the rights of minorities”.

Monsieur Alain Juppé,

Modern etiquette requires that you begin your words by greetings. But I would be lying if I said I wish you a Good Morning or “Bonjour”. So I will breach this clumsy protocol.

On the occasion of your statement which was directed to the Christians of the East, and to the Syrians amongst them in particular, and of your crocodile tears over their fate, I tell you the following: If the Christians of the East really need protection, it is from you whom they need protection and from the gangs allied with you which have  terrorised the peaceful population. Those gangs initially did not distinguish between Christians and Muslims, but because you choose to limit your talk to them, I will talk to you in the same context.

Muslims and Christians showing their unity in a church in Damascus on January 9 2012 as they commemorate the martyrdom of the children of Um Sari and the Great Mufti at the hands of insurgents.

Monsieur Juppé, your gangs only during the previous two days attacked two of the most important churches between the Eastern Churches, both of which are in Homs. There is no doubt that you know well that the clergy did not escape from their tyranny too and up until this moment, the killing of two priests has been recorded, not to mention the hundreds of Christian martyrs who have fallen since the outbreak of the crisis.

You make it appear as though in France you have not read your history or perhaps that your memory is tired and heavily burdened by sins. But let me refresh your memory with a story that you find unpleasant: the story of your grandfather General Gouraud and our grandfather Fares Khoury that is still fresh in our minds and conscience.

Fares Khoury
t was only a few decades ago that Gouraud said the same statement that your indecent tongue uttered today – that he wanted to protect Christians. But at that time my grandfather Fares Khoury came to one of the minarets of Damascus and said his famous words: “If you want to come to protect Christians, bear witness that there is no god but God.” You are perhaps unaware of Fares Khoury’s importance and the place he occupied in our conscience and our hearts. I assure you that we are walking in his footsteps, and it is impossible for us to betray his legacy.
Pull your gangs and your allies gangs from Syria, and the Christians will be fine. This is Syria.

Signature,
Syrian Christian
George Nader

Thanks to Kevork Elmassian for the translation of this as-Safir interview with French FM Alain Juppe:

The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called the Christians of the Middle East to participate in the “positive” developments taking place in their countries, especially Syria. He stressed that France “will always be by their side”.
Juppe considered, in an article published in the Catholic newspaper La Croix, that, Christian minorities in Arab countries are expressing their concern of “the escalation of tension associated with sectarianism”, but France “was and will always be by their side”.
He added that: “The best protection for the Christians of the East, and the most effective guarantee for the continuation of their existence, lies today in the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in Arab countries”.
Juppe added: “We recommend the Christians in the Middle East not to pay attention to the manoeuvres and exploitation practised by dictatorial regimes isolated from their people”.
“In Syria, as elsewhere, the interest of the Eastern Christians lies in embracing these irreversible positive developments. They are protecting their future, by their certain commitment in the form of building a new region.
“I would like to say to the Christians of the East. France will not abandon them. We have confidence that the revolutions of 2011 are accompanied by an absolute vigilance of the importance of respect for human rights, especially the rights of minorities”.