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  • Syria crisis: Kidnapped nuns released in prisoner deal

    A group of Greek Orthodox nuns kidnapped by rebels in the Syrian Christian town of Maaloula in December have been released.

    The 13 nuns and their three helpers were said to have been freed as part of a prisoner exchange.

    The women have been taken to the town of Judaydat Yabus on the Syrian-Lebanon border, Lebanese state media reported.

    Rights groups say kidnappings by both rebel groups and government forces have become increasingly common.

    The capture of the nuns had raised fears that Christians were becoming a target for the rebels.

    Opposition fighters, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, seized the women from the Greek Orthodox convent of Mar Takla when fighters overran Maaloula, about 60km (40 miles) north-east of Damascus, in December, the Associated Press reports.

    The nuns, who are believed to be mostly Syrian and Lebanese, worked in the convent’s orphanage, the agency said.

    They were reportedly held for at least part of their captivity in the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, now the target of heavy government bombardment.

    The women reached the Syrian town of Judaydat Yabus overnight after a nine-hour journey.

    “We arrived late, and we arrived tired,” the Associated Press quoted Mother Superior Pelagia Sayaf, the head of the Maaloula convent, as saying.

    She said the women were mostly well treated by their captors.

    “God did not leave us,” she said. “The [Nusra] Front was good to us … but we took off our crosses because we were in the wrong place to wear them.”

    About 150 female prisoners are to be released in exchange for the group’s freedom, Lebanese security chief Gen Abbas Ibrahim told Syrian television.

    More than 100,000 people have died and 9.5 million people have been driven from their homes since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

    BBC