Syrian rebel group demands 1,000 women prisoners in return for 12 kidnapped nuns

Sunday 09 March 2014 14.17
Nuns attend a prayer vigil for peace at the Lady of Dormition, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal cathedral in the Old City of Damascus
Nuns attend a prayer vigil for peace at the Lady of Dormition, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal cathedral in the Old City of Damascus

A Syrian Islamist rebel group wants to trade 12 kidnapped nuns for 1,000 women prisoners held by the government, a pan-Arab newspaper has reported.  
              
A spokesman for the "Free Qalamoun" group told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the nuns were safe. 

He said they would not be freed until several demands were met. 

These include the release of 1,000 Syrian women held in regime prisons according to the spokesman.

The reports have not yet been independently confirmed.

An official at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus said the nuns were safe but would not comment on which group had taken them.                        

Islamist fighters who captured the Christian village of Maaloula north of Damascus moved the nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla to the nearby town of Yabrud on Monday, according to the Vatican envoy to Syria, Mario Zenari.
              
The militants took the village after heavy fighting with Syrian army forces in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border.

The violence pitting al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters and other rebels against President Assad's forces is part of a wider struggle for control of the Damascus-Homs highway in central Syria. 

Syria's Christian minority have generally tried to stay on the sidelines of the sectarian conflict involving majority Sunni Muslims against the Alawite minority of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Many Christians in Syria fear the rise of hardline Islamist groups.  

Keywords: syria, syria nuns