CHRISTIANS in Syria are seeking news about the fate of 12 Greek
Orthodox nuns, and three other women, who were seen being taken
away from their convent by Islamist rebel fighters, after the
latter captured much of the small town of Maaloula, north of
Damascus. The anti-government forces took Maaloula in September
(News, 13 September), but the Syrian army subsequently recaptured
On Monday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) re-
ported that the Mother Superior of Mar Takla convent, Pelagia
Sayaf, and five nuns, were trapped inside by the rebel fighters.
The Minister for Social Affairs, Kinda al- Shammat, demanded that
countries supporting the rebels should pressure them to allow the
nuns to leave safely.
Later that day, as the anti-government forces took control of
the town, witnesses saw gunmen forcing 12 nuns to leave the
convent. They were said to have been taken to the nearby town of
Yabroud, which is under rebel Islamists' control.
Vatican Radio quoted the Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus, Mgr Mario
Zenari, as saying that Mar Takla convent was stormed by jihadist
Islamist rebels, who subsequently led away Mother Pelagia and the
other nuns living there. He told Vatican Radio that he "didn't know
if it is a kidnapping, or if they were removed by the rebels
because they wanted to have a free hand in the monastery for
The convent was the only inhabited building in Maaloula at the
time, he said. "All we can do is pray for those nuns, pray that
those people who have them in their hands treat them well and that
this is not a kidnapping."
The early indications were that the nuns were being well
treated. The Mother Superior of the nearby Saidnaya convent said
that she had spoken by telephone to Mother Pelagia, who reported
that all the nuns and the other women were "fine and safe".
Pope Francis at a general audience in St Peter's Square on
Wednesday called for prayers for the nuns and for all hostages held
in the war-torn country. "We pray for these nuns and for all kidnap
victims in the conflict," he said.
While the fighting continues as intensely as ever in various
regions of Syria, with the fortunes of each side ebbing and
flowing, international attention is focusing on the long-delayed
Geneva 2 peace conference, which is intended to broker a deal to
end the fighting. A date - 22 January 2014 - has finally been
agreed on. But numerous other issues relating to the meeting await
clarification. The Syrian government has said that it will attend,
but it is by no means certain that opposition and rebel leaders
will agree to take part.
The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said that one aim of the
conference was "the establishment, based on mutual consent, of a
transitional governing body with full executive powers, including
over military and security entities".