According to some sources, the Syrian Government is trying to negotiate the release of the twelve Greek Orthodox nuns who were captured earlier this month from an Orthodox convent north of Damascus, by Syrian rebels. In exchange for their freedom, the rebels demanded that the Syrian government release a hundred imprisoned female activists as well as the imprisoned Saudi Arabian nationals who were captured while fighting for the opposition.
As the three-year-old civil war in Syria continues, reports of local ceasefires and other short-term deals become more and more common. However, negotiations that would lead to the exchange of prisoners appear to be pretty rare. A representative of the al-Habib al-Moustafa rebel brigade stated that government officials had declined any proposition for the exchange of prisoners. According to him, there is a mediator contacting both sides. He also underlined that his group is not involved in the negotiations in any way.
Two activists mentioned that negotiations began right after the seizure of the nuns from their convent of St. Thecla in the village of Maloula. Another three women were also seized from the convent’s orphanage. The incident had taken place on December 6, when rebels overran the area.
A few days after they were captured, the women appeared in a video confirming they were alive and well.
The identity of the rebel group that released the video is not yet known and no rebel faction has claimed to have control of the imprisoned women. The al-Qaida-linked group, the Nusra Front, are suspected to have the women in captivity.
No comments have been made from either the government or the Lebannon-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which oversees the convent.
The kidnapping incident has strengthened the fears that al-Qaida militants and other extremists are targeting Syria’s Christian minority. The fears are based on the previous kidnapping of a priest and two bishops who remain missing, as well as to the vandalism of churches in areas captured by rebels.