A group of Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns reportedly seized by rebels from a convent near Damascus denied in a video broadcast on Friday that they had been kidnapped and said they were being held in a safe place.
It was the first appearance by the nuns, whose alleged abduction on Monday has increased concerns about the treatment of Christians by hardliners in the rebel ranks, particularly as the fighting has engulfed more Christian villages in recent months.
In the video aired by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel, the Greek Orthodox nuns appeared healthy. They sat on sofas in a “villa” at an undisclosed location and took turns speaking, saying they were escorted out of Maaloula to keep them safe from the shelling.
“The brothers are treating us well and have brought us from the convent here, and we are very happy,” one of them says to the camera.
The video appeared authentic, but it was impossible to independently verify it or to know if the nuns were speaking under duress.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as well as religious officials had said the Orthodox nuns and three civilians were taken by rebels from the Mar Takla convent in Maaloula after rebels overran the village, and were being kept in the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud.
Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregorios III Laham thanked all who contributed to making the nuns comfortable, but said: “Real comfort would be in their homes.”
Also on Friday, an international watchdog said it has verified the destruction of all of Syria’s declared stocks of unfilled munitions for delivering chemical agents, another milestone along the road to eradicating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement that its experts in Syria also have verified the destruction of parts of buildings at weapons production facilities.