Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The international community has stepped up efforts to secure the release of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns who went missing following heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in Maaloula last week.
There are conflicting reports about the identity of the kidnappers, especially since no rebel group in Syria has claimed responsibility.
A video broadcast by Al-Jazeera TV channel showed the nuns wearing long black robes and sitting in a room at an unknown location.
The nuns said they were in good health and denied they had been kidnapped.
“We are being treated well. They [the rebels] brought us from the convent, out from under the shelling…they rescued us, and we’re very happy with them,” one of them told a man behind the camera.
The Vatican’s envoy to Syria announced that the fighters have moved the nuns from their Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Thecla in Maaloula to the nearby town of Yabrud.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, a Lebanese source with knowledge of the case said no definite information is available about who the kidnappers are “despite the certainty that they are from a radical Islamist group.”
The source said that the nuns are still in Syria.
According to the source, the abduction is a “betrayal of the principles of the Syrian revolution,” and “has caused an embarrassment to all of the supporters of the Syrian opposition.”
The source denied that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is behind the abduction, citing the “growing influence of the hardline rebels who oppose the FSA and have taken control over the FSA military bases in Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish borders.”
The source said that the international community has stepped up “efforts to find the best way to release the nuns,” whose abduction, if continued “will lead to regional and international consequences.”
Director-General of Lebanese General Security Forces Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim has visited Qatar, one of the key sponsors of several Syrian rebels groups, to discuss ways to secure the release of the 12 nuns.
According to sources who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat, some of the nuns are Lebanese nationals.
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim played a leading role in the release of the 11 Shi’ite pilgrims who were kidnapped by Syrian Islamist rebels earlier this year.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman, said: “If the kidnappers wanted to protect the nuns, they should have turned them in to the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
Abdul Rahman said he would not rule out religious restrictions being placed on the nuns by the group holding them, pointing out that the nuns who appeared in the video were not wearing crucifixes.