03/11/2014, 00.00
SYRIA - LEBANON
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Exchanged for the wife of an al Qaeda member, Ma'aloula Sisters shout "Allah Akbar"

by Paul Dakiki
In a video, the nuns are seen thanking everyone, including the kidnappers, and calling on God to bless them. The al-Nusra Front pledges to continue its efforts until all prisoners are freed from Syrian jails. Reports says a ransom of US$ 4 million, but mediators deny.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - A rebel video shows the release of Ma'aloula nuns as they are handed over to Lebanese authorities in exchange for 143 (some sources say 153) women prisoners held by the Syrian government, including Saja Dlaymé, an Iraqi mother of three and wife of a prominent member of al-Qaeda.

As the exchange took place near the Lebanese-Syrian border, rebels who brought the nuns and took away the female prisoners freed in Syria, are seen shouting nonstop 'Allah Akbar', making comments about their victory and pledging to continue seeking the release of all prisoners held in the jails of the "tyrant,' Bashar al-Assad.

A certain Hadi al-Abdallah shot the video posted on YouTube yesterday. The latter shows the nuns' release as he talks with them and makes various comments. On the tape, the rebels have their faces covered. In one of the first scenes, one of them is seen carrying and older nun in his arms.

Prompted by Abdallah, the other nuns praise to God and all those who helped end their captivity. "May Allah give you strength and reward," one nun tells the videographer.

After the release, one of the sisters in an interview with a Lebanese TV station said that they were all "treated well" and that Al Nusra Front kidnappers gave us "everything we asked."

She added that "no one bothered us," denying rumours that the kidnappers had forced them to remove their crosses.

After the sisters were eventually released around midnight Sunday, the video shows a veiled woman coming towards the rebels, walking with two children and a baby in the arms of a man.

At one point, as dozens of other women are seen moving towards the rebel convoy, the men start to shout, "Allah Akbar," louder and with greater excitement, praising God for the release.

One of them pledges, "We shall never rest or get sleep until all our sisters get out of the tyrant's prisons."

The video ends with a close-up on one of the children smiling says that his home is in Syria.

Lebanese and Qatari security were instrumental in getting the nuns-for-prisoners swap.

All parties have ruled out claims that a ransom was paid. However, Lebanese Arabic language daily Al Nahar reported yesterday that US$ 4 million were given to the rebels.

What is true is that the nuns' release, announced at 9 am, was delayed at the last moment because Al Nusra Front rebels had changed his mind. Instead of releasing all the sisters, they wanted to free a few, and then do the same for the rest only after the first exchange.

However, the mediators refused to budge and were ready to leave when the rebels accepted the old conditions.

Yesterday afternoon, the sisters were brought to the Church of the Cross in Damascus, where a Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated for their return.

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