04/26/2013, 00.00
SYRIA - VATICAN

No sign of Orthodox bishops' release, fears of political blackmail grow

by Elias Khoury
Sources tell AsiaNews they will believe in the release when they can see and talk to the two bishops. Delay is a sign that something went wrong. So far, Christians have not taken sides with either warring party. The pope calls for a political solution to the crisis. Western governments seek to arm the opposition. Accusations of nerve gas use could lead to US military intervention.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - There is no sign that two Orthodox bishops kidnapped four days ago near Aleppo have been released, this despite numerous reports about their liberation. "Nothing; there is nothing; only unreliable reports," a source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews. "We can talk about their release only when the two bishops are in front of us and can talk to us."

Mgr Yohanna Ibrahim, bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo, and Mgr Boulos Yaziji, archbishop of the Greek Orthodox diocese of the same city, were abducted on Monday in Kafr Dael, 10 km from Aleppo, on the Turkish border. Their driver, a Syriac Orthodox deacon, was killed.

According to information from the Orthodox Church, the two prelates were negotiating the release of two priests, Fr Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Fr Maher Mahfouz (Greek Orthodox), seized in February and still in the hands of kidnappers, even though a ransom was paid for their release.

Damascus pinned the kidnapping of two bishops on "terrorist groups". Some sources have blamed Chechen jihadists for the abduction. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main armed opposition force, accused instead Syrian troops.

What the case, what is certain is that the two bishops were kidnapped in a rebel-held area and that opposition officials said they would do what they could to ensure their release. "However, the release is taking its time," the source told AsiaNews, "and this is worrisome."

As time goes by, fears are growing that something went wrong. "The more time goes by, the worse it gets," the source said.

Some fear that the abduction might be a way to force the Church and Christians to take sides. So far, only the United Nations and the Vatican continue to call for political talks as the only way to end the civil war.

On Wednesday, as he mentioned the two kidnapped bishops, Pope Francis called "for an end to the bloodshed," for the delivery of "necessary humanitarian assistance to the population" and for a quick "political solution to the crisis."

In a public statement, the Syriac and Greek Orthodox patriarchates of Antioch, to which the two kidnapped bishops belong, stressed that the two prelates are "messengers of peace", as demonstrated by their "religious, social and national work."

On this basis, the patriarchates called on all Churches in the world to reject "all kinds of violence hitting the human beings living in the East."

Similarly, they called on "our partners in citizenship, from all Islamic confessions, to stand hand in hand and work on refusing the misuse of man and deal with him as a product, a shield in the battles or a means for monetary or political bribery."

The abduction of the two bishops comes at a time when Western governments are increasingly convinced that Syrian rebels must be armed and the Central Intelligence Agency is certain that the Assad regime used nerve gas, a conclusion that could push the United States towards military intervention in Syria.

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