Homs (AsiaNews) - Negotiations for the release of 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and three other young women from Maaloula continue after Islamic extremists from the Ahrar al-Qalamoun Brigade seized them on 2 December. "Some contacts have been established with the kidnappers," Vatican nuncio to Damascus Archbishop Mario Zenari told AsiaNews, "but there are no reports at present about their possible release."
For the prelate, "this kidnapping is very different" from the abduction of Catholic and Orthodox Churchmen earlier this year. The sisters have had the opportunity to contact the outside world by phone. Several foreign diplomats have been working on an agreement with the kidnappers for their release. And "This bodes well for their future release," he explained.
By contrast, for months there has been silence over the fate of Mgr Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Mgr Paul Yazigi, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, who were abducted on 22 April, a fate shared by Fr Michel Kayyal, an Armenian Catholic priest, and Fr Maher Mahfouz, a Greek Orthodox, who were seized in February.
The nuns' abduction shocked local and world public opinion. The sisters are known throughout Syria for their charity work with orphans of any creed and ethnicity.
Despite a video message broadcast by al-Jazeera in which they offer reassurances, there are concerns about the nun's conditions and fate.
Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, made an appeal on 11 December for their release, slamming the serious "crime" committed by Islamic extremists.
"We've now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong," the prelate asked. In his view, "The abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy".
Sources, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that three Maaloula residents - the nun's driver and two young people - are also being held in Yabrud.
They were abducted during the siege of the Christian village and taken to the rebel-held city, which is under the control of Hamdi Abu Azzam al-Kuwait, a Syrian-Kuwaiti who is also the deputy of Jabat al-Nusra Front commander Malik al-Talli.