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US Congressmen call for action on abducted Syrians

31 May 2013

AP

Challenged: the  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, listens at a meeting on Syria of the London 11 in Amman, Jordan, last  week 

Challenged: the  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, listens at a meeting on Syria of the London 11 in Amman, Jordan, last &n...

SEVENTY-TWO members of the United States Congress have written to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, urging the Obama administration to take action to secure the release of the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mor Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul Yazigi.

The two men were seized more than a month ago in the north of the country while en route from the Turkish border to their home city. Their driver was killed ( News, 3 May).

The letter to Mr Kerry called on the State Department to make the Archbishops' "release and safe return to Aleppo a priority in our efforts in the region".

Earlier this month, there were strong suggestions that the location of the two churchmen was known, and that they were in good health. In recent days, however, doubt has been cast on these reports.

A senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Brad Sherman, who is a member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, said that he was pleased that 72 bipartisan representatives had co-operated in this way. "We must do everything we can to ensure that Christians and other religious minorities have a safe future in Syria," he said. "I am deeply alarmed about the safety of the Archbishops and call for their immediate and safe release."

Another signatory of the letter, Carolyn Maloney, said that it was "a travesty that weeks have gone by since the Archbishops were initially captured, and we have still heard nothing on their release. These Archbishops have nothing to do with the Syrian civil war, and I call for their release."

Congressman Mike Pompeo denounced the abduction of the churchmen as "part of an alarming trend of violence directed at religious minorities, especially Christians".

Syriac and Greek Orthodox church leaders in Aleppo issued a statement on 22 May, expressing "sadness and increasing pain about the abduction and the absence of these two eminent Prelates".

They spoke of their regret that the prayers of Christians and the efforts of Muslim organisations had failed to secure the release of the men. "As it is painful for them in their abduction, it is also painful for all the faithful of their two communities, the people of Syria, and the world."

George Sabra, the acting head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, who had reported that the two men were being held by rebels north-west of Aleppo ( News, 17 May), said earlier this week that their whereabouts was now uncertain.

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