[13 Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns, who were seized by rebels battling to overthrow the Syrian regime from their convent of Mar Takla in the village of Maloula, are seen upon arrival at Jdaidet Yabous on the Syrian-Lebanese borders on 10 March. ( Xinhua/Bassem Tellawi)]
DAMASCUS, (Xinhua): A total of 13 Syrian nuns and three Christian female teachers kidnapped by Syria’s radical rebels late last year have been released, according to the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV.
After hours of delay in the release process, the freed nuns and teachers crossed into Syria’s Jdaidet Yabous early Monday and were received by a number of Syrian Christian and Muslim clergymen.
Reports said the nuns would be hosted in the Mariamieh Church in the capital Damascus, where a religious mass was expected to be held to celebrate their release later on Monday.
In December, radical Jihadist militants kidnapped the 13 nuns from their convent in the Christian town of Maloula, north of Damascus, and took the nuns to the nearby town of Yabroud, where they have been engaged in fierce fighting with Syrian government troops recently.
Syrian forces have launcheded a large-scale offensive over the past three weeks to recapture Yabroud, a place suspected to be harboring more than 10,000 rebel fighters.
As clashes flare up in the surrounding areas of Yabroud, media reports said communication with the kidnapped nuns had been cut off.
Yet, the arrival of the kidnapped nuns at the Syrian-Lebanese border indicated that the nuns had been moved into Lebanon ahead of the Syrian military’s operation in Yabroud.
The nuns’ release came as part of a deal mediated by Lebanese security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim. Reports said 150 imprisoned women in Syria were released in exchange for the freedom of the nuns.
The TV report cited sources as saying that the Qatari intelligence agency had also interfered for the release of the nuns, whose kidnapping sparked strong international condemnation.
Syria’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s Sunni-majority population, have felt the pain of the protracted crisis in the Arab country, as they have come under repeated attacks by the radical rebels.
Syria’s Christians support President Bashar al-Assad whose administration has portrayed itself as a defender of the minority groups in Syria.
Christians in Syria are relatively well off and some even hold senior government positions, which makes them wary of any change of the Syrian government.
The Syria crisis has displaced more than 450,000 Christian Syrians and killed more than 1,000 of them, Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch and all East, told Xinhua in a recent interview.