Syrian nuns deny kidnapping claims
Damascus - A group of nuns from the historic Christian town of Maalula in Syria denied they were kidnapped by rebels, in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera news channel on Friday.
The brief video shows the women, apparently in good health and comfortable, dressed in black religious garb in a room. It was unclear who was filming the women, and where they were speaking from.
“A group brought us here and protected us, and we're very, very happy with them,” one of the nuns said.
Another insisted the group was staying in a “very, very nice villa” and denied claims that the group of women had been kidnapped.
The nuns were reported missing from the town north of Damascus after rebel forces, including jihadists, seized control of Maalula on Monday.
Media close to the Syrian regime accused rebels of using the nuns as “human shields,” and fears were raised for the safety of the 12 women.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns missing from a Greek Orthodox convent and “for all kidnap victims in the conflict”.
But in the video, several said they were in good health and that they fled Maalula after intense shelling on the town.
They called for an end to the targeting of holy sites by all parties to Syria's bloody 33-month conflict.
On Tuesday, religious officials said the 12 nuns, accompanied by three maids, were in the town of Yabrud, not far from Maaloula in the Qalamoun region near the border with Lebanon.
The mother superior of the Saydnaya convent in Damascus province told AFP she had spoken to her Maalula counterpart who told her the 12 women were safe in Yabrud.
Maalula, a picturesque village cut into the cliffs some 55 kilometres (35 miles) from Damascus, has long been a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria.
Its residents are some of the few left in the world who speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.AFP