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Two bishops kidnapped by rebels, says Syrian government

Two bishops were kidnapped by 'a terrorist group,' say Syrian officials. Several Muslim clerics have been killed, but the two bishops are the most senior Christian leaders caught up in the conflict which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.

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A portrait of Santa Ana is seen through a broken door of the Santa Ana Armenian Orthodox church in the Christian village of Yacobiyeh, in Idlib province, Syria. The Syrian government is reporting that the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized by 'a terrorist group' in the village of Kfar Dael as they were 'carrying out humanitarian work.'

Hussein Malla / AP / File

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Two prominent Syrian bishops, who had warned of the threat to religious tolerance and diversity from the two-year conflict in their country, were kidnapped on Monday by armed rebels in the northern province of Aleppo, state media said.

SANA news agency said the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized by "a terrorist group" in the village of Kfar Dael as they were "carrying out humanitarian work."

A Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey.

Several prominent Muslim clerics have been killed in Syria's uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but the two bishops are the most senior church leaders caught up in the conflict which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.

Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people and, like other religious minorities, many have been wary of the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Fears for their future if the rebels were to end 40 years of Assad dynastic rule, which ensured religious freedom without political rights, have increased with the growing strength of Islamist rebels and a pledge of allegiance to Al Qaeda by the hardline Nusra Front rebels two weeks ago.

Steifo said Ibrahim had gone to collect Yazigi from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing because he had crossed there several times before and was familiar with the route.

The two men were driving to Aleppo when they were kidnapped, he added. Asked who was behind their abduction, Steifo said: "All probabilities are open."

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