Damascus (AsiaNews) - "The whole world should be against these extremists," who commit violence and constitute "a threat to all". Muslims and Christians "must express strong condemnation". In this regard, "unity" of intent "with Islam and the Arab world" is essential, said Mgr Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkites, in reaction to the kidnapping in Syria of a Franciscan priest Sunday night.
This morning, the Custody of the Holy Land confirmed in an official statement that Fr Hanna Jallouf was abducted by members of the Jihadist al-Nusra Front in the village of Knayeh, in the north of the country near the border with Turkey, together with other Christians.
At present, their fate remains unknown. The number of kidnap victims is also unknown, although local sources suggest that perhaps up to 20 Christians might have been taken by force, including three women.
"The nuns who were in the convent" at the time of the attack "found refuge in some homes in the village," the Custody of the Holy Land said.
After several hours, there have been no official contacts with the kidnappers nor are there any news about the abducted priest and Christians.
In view of the situation, the Franciscans renew their call to "pray" for Fr Hanna, his faithful and "all other victims of this tragic and senseless war."
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadi militias have kidnapped several prominent local Christian figures, most notably two bishops, Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (Orthodox Church of Antioch) and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (Syrian Orthodox Church) in April 2013
Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian-born Jesuit priest, was also kidnapped in Syria on 29 July 2013.
Contacted by AsiaNews, Patriarch Laham slammed the abduction, calling on Christians and Muslims to organise a common front against a "threat" that touches "the whole world".
Syria, where "attacks against Christians" are taking place, is "the cradle of Christianity", a land "where Christianity was already present in the year 33 AD.
In an address to the kidnap victims, he said they should "hold on and not be afraid". They should feel "hope", which can help "overcome this difficult situation."
Knayeh was under Islamic State (IS) control for some time. Since it was seized, Christians have been forced to submit to many restrictions, including removing crosses from their churches, a ban on bell ringing, covering of statues and Christian women forced to wear the Islamic veil.
Eventually, IS redeployed to the east, leaving the area to the al Qaeda-affiliated Jahbat Al-Nusra brigades. Not long ago, the militias occupying the village confiscated Father Jallouf's passport.