Syrian nuns held by rebels for months released

Thirteen Syrian nuns held captive by rebels for nearly three months have been released and are on their way home, Syrian Christian leaders said Sunday.

The nuns were abducted along with other women in early December from their monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula north of the Syrian capital Damascus. They were taken to the nearby rebel bastion of Yabroud, near the Lebanese border.

Christian leaders said the nuns were moved from Yabroud to the pro-rebel town of Arsal across the border in Lebanon. The area surrounding Yabroud has seen heavy clashes in recent weeks between rebels and pro-regime forces including the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Bishop Luke al Khoury from Syria’s Greek Orthodox church was among those waiting for the freed nuns at the Jdaydet Yabouss border crossing Sunday.

He said members of his church were in regular contact with the nuns by telephone and that rebels made “unrealistic and impossible demands.”

Bishop Khoury, a staunch regime supporter, said the military operations in Yabroud forced the rebels to release the nuns.

“In my opinion, what the Syrian Arab army achieved in the Yabroud area and its surroundings is what made the completion of this deal very easy,” he said.