Syria rebels take Maalula nuns to nearby town: Sources
DAMASCUS - Agence France-PresseSyrian rebels have taken 12 nuns from a convent in the historic town of Maalula to the nearby rebel stronghold of Yabrud, religious officials said Dec. 3.
It was not immediately clear whether the nuns had been kidnapped or merely evacuated for their own safety after rebels seized Maalula from regime forces late Dec. 2 following three days of heavy clashes.
"The 12 nuns were forced from the convent by an armed group who they went with on the road to Yabrud," a nearby area in rebel hands, the Holy See's nuncio Mario Zenari told AFP.
Reached by phone, the mother superior of the Saydnaya convent in Damascus province, Sivronia Nabhan, said she had spoken with her Maalula counterpart, who confirmed the nuns were in Yabrud.
Maalula mother superior Pelagia Sayyaf said "she and the 11 other nuns, accompanied by three young maids, were comfortably installed in a house in Yabrud and no one was bothering them," Nabhan said.
The two nuns spoke on Monday evening, Nabhan added.
Zenari said it was it was unclear why the nuns had been forced to leave Maalula and "what the goal of this action is." The nuns were first reported missing on Monday, as rebel forces, including jihadists from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, recaptured Maalula, which lies north of Damascus.
They were among the few residents left in the hamlet, and were sheltering inside the Mar Takla convent.
In September, they were trapped inside the building with dozens of orphans during the first round of fighting between regime forces and rebels in the town.
But Zenari said the orphans had long been evacuated from the town.
Maalula, a picturesque village cut into the cliffs some 55 kilometres north of 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.
Rebels briefly captured the town in September, before being quickly forced back to its outskirts by regime forces.
But with the army pressing an advance elsewhere in the surrounding Qalamoun region, opposition fighters seized the heart of the town once again Dec. 2.
An estimated 126,000 people have been killed in Syria since President Bashar al-Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests nearly three years ago, setting off a full-blown civil war that has displaced millions.