Two Orthodox Archbishops abducted in Syria released

April 24, 2013 by  
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Two Bishops ReleasedThe two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped by foreign-sponsored militants in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo have been released, a church official said.

“The two are on their way to the patriarchy in Aleppo,” Bishop Tony Yazigi of the Roman Orthodox Church said in Damascus on Tuesday.

Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo Paul Yazigi were captured by “a terrorist group” as they were “carrying out humanitarian work” in a village in Aleppo governorate on Monday, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.

“Terrorists intercepted the bishops’ car in Kafr Dael village, took the driver out of the car and kidnapped the bishops,” SANA said.

According to Aleppo residents, Ibrahim went to pick up Yazigi from the rebel-controlled Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey. Their car was intercepted on the way back by militants who kidnapped the archbishops and killed their driver.

Syria has been gripped by a deadly unrest since March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of government forces, have been killed in the violence.

Damascus says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.

The Syrian government says the West and its regional allies including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are supporting the militants.

Several international human rights organizations have accused militants operating in Syria of committing war crimes.

UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on April 18 that a quarter of Syria’s 22 million people are displaced within the country and 1.3 million have fled to other states in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Children are among the ones who suffer most. Children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. Many do not have enough food to eat. Millions have been traumatized by the horrors,” Amos said.

– mp/as

Two Archbishops Are Kidnapped Outside Northern Syrian City

Two Bishops KidnappedBeirut, April 23, 2013: Two Syrian archbishops from Aleppo were abducted on Monday while traveling outside that besieged northern city, the official news media and antigovernment activists reported, making them the most senior church clerics to become entangled as victims in the two-year-old civil war.The government and insurgent groups blamed each other for the abduction of the two clerics, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop, Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox archbishop, Paul Yazigi. Activists reached by telephone in the Aleppo area said the pair’s vehicle had been waylaid in the countryside by armed men who shot their driver.

Several prominent Muslim religious leaders have been persecuted or killed since the Syria conflict began, including the highest-ranking Sunni imam in the country in a bombing of his Damascus mosque last month. But until now the fighting had largely bypassed the clerical hierarchy of Syria’s Christian minority.

Archbishop Ibrahim had been supportive of President Bashar al-Assad and had urged his followers not to abandon Syria, but he had recently turned critical of the government. In an interview with the BBC on April 13, the archbishop said that perhaps a third of Syria’s Christians had left the country and that he could not blame them, considering the “difficult circumstances in terms of security and the threats they face daily.”

In the same interview, the archbishop chided Mr. Assad’s government for “not dealing with the crisis in a better way.”

Archbishop Yazigi was not known to be politically outspoken.Syria’s official news agency, SANA, said the pair had been engaged in humanitarian work when they were seized in the village of Kfar Dael by “terrorists,” the government’s catchall term for the armed opposition.

Anti-government activists said the pair had been in southern Turkey earlier Monday and had crossed back into Syria at the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is controlled by insurgent forces. Aleppo, which has been a battleground of the insurgency since last summer, is about 40 miles south of the Turkish border.

The abduction of the clerics in northern Syria came as concern intensified about border tensions in western Syria with Lebanon. A Human Rights Watch report released Monday accused both the Syrian government and the insurgency of striking residential areas in Lebanon on several occasions and killing a number of its citizens. The cross-border attacks appeared to be largely indiscriminate, Human Rights Watch said.

While the Syrian government and armed opposition groups have both said that their attacks on Lebanese villages were in retaliation for provocations, Human Rights Watch said it had not found any evidence of military targets when it visited the Lebanese villages that had been attacked. Its report said the evidence “strongly suggests these attacks were indiscriminate and therefore violate the laws of war,” according to a summary of the report on its Web site.

Lebanon has officially adopted a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict, which has pitted President Assad’s Alawite minority against a Sunni-dominated rebellion, but violence is beginning to spill over the border, intensifying sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

Insurgents and their sympathizers have accused Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group that supports Mr. Assad, of sending fighters into the Syrian town of Qusayr in recent weeks. On Sunday, rebel groups in Qusayr threatened to “transfer the battle of blood into the heart of Lebanon” because of what they called incitement by Hezbollah. Some rebel fighters in Qusayr also sent a message via Skype to comrades beseeching them to come and help defend against “the party of the devil” — a disparaging reference to Hezbollah, which translates from Arabic as “the party of God.”Hezbollah has not commented on the Syrian rebels’ accusations, but it has said that Lebanese citizens living inside Syria have been attacked and that they have the right to defend themselves.

Anti-Assad activists also reported on Monday that the number of deaths from an attack by government forces on a town south of Damascus had risen to at least 101, mostly civilians, and could exceed 250 if the missing remain unaccounted for, which would make the attack one of the bloodiest since the conflict began two years ago.

The attack on the town, Jdeidet al-Fadel, which happened over this past week, has been described by the Syrian opposition as an intense campaign of shelling, burning and summary executions, while the official news media has described it as a cleanup operation against terrorists, an operation that had been welcomed by area villagers.

In other Syria developments, the main anti-Assad group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, chose a caretaker leader to replace Sheik Moaz al-Khatib until a formal election is held. Sheik Moaz, a Sunni cleric, was temporarily succeeded by George Sabra, a leftist Christian dissident and outspoken critic of Mr. Assad.

Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.

– new york times

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