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The Saga of The Thirteen Syrian Nuns and Three Maids

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Research Credit to: Yella Souriya

On December 2nd, thirteen Greek Orthodox nuns and three maids were kidnapped in Syria by the al-Qaeda linked group al-Nusra Front (aka JAN).

The nuns were held until March 10th, when they were released unharmed.

This kidnapping was orchestrated specifically to make a trade with the Assad Regime for women and children that were being held as prisoners.

Moment The Nuns Kidnapped From The Monastery At Takla Maloula

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In a group interview while still in the "care" of JAN, the nuns spoke out and said they were treated as "guests" of the opposition. In this interview, the nuns spoke freely about "being treated well in the hospitality of revolutionaries and being under their protection."

During the period the nuns were held hostage, they were taken to Yarbroud for safe keeping; however, JAN moved the nuns routinely to protect them. After months of negotiations which included Lebanese Officials, the Qatari Government and the Assad Regime, the nuns were released. CNN stated that Qatari intelligence chief Saadeh Kobeisi reportedly crossed deep into Syrian territory to obtain the release of the Syrian nuns. Lebanese State News said, "Chief Kobesi crossed into Syria as part of a Lebanese Internal Security delegation."

When the nuns were released, they were taken into Lebanon on a route to exit back to Jdaidet Yabous, which is in Syria. During the drive through Lebanon, the convoy transporting the nuns encountered one point when they were delayed several hours for "logistical reasons." The group showed up in Jdaidet Yabous late and in good spirits, with no apparent explanation for the delay, according to CNN. Lebanon Public Security Director Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was in charge of taking the nuns from their release point to Jdaidet Yabous where they were turned over to the Syrians.

Nuns Held By al-Nusra Released And Travel To Damascus

Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi disputed reports that 150 people were freed in exchange for a group of kidnapped nuns, insisting that only 25 were in fact released. On March 11th, he said, "The number of people released in exchange for the Maloula nuns is not more than 25 people whose hands had not been stained by the blood of the Syrian people." In typical regime fashion, he went on to say, "Everything that has been said on this issue is not accurate and has been exaggerated." Lebanon's General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who mediated the exchange said, "More than 150 prisoners were freed under the deal."

Syrian State Run SAMA TV was very critical in their reporting of the nuns "return from captivity", because the nuns would not say they were "mistreated by JAN" or that they were "forced to remove the Christian crosses they wear." SAMA accused the nuns of being "unpatriotic and traitors."

Since the nuns have been returned, a petition has been initiated by citizens of Syria to ex-communicate Mother Pelagia from the monastery of St. Thecla from Maloula. The petition accuses Mother Pelagia of demonstrating sympathetic behavior and having conversations "with joy rather than fear," regarding JAN during her news interviews.

Due to all the negative press directed at Mother Pelagia,the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Syria has distance himself from her. It is reported he also disagrees with the Mother's kind attitude toward how JAN treated the nuns while they were in captivity.

Assad's Payback

As the nuns were getting into the van to leave their "drop site" the Assad regime began shelling the town. It was reported that one of the shells landed within 50 ft of the nuns. Despite the shelling, the nuns were successfully hurried away unharmed. Knowing of the plan to release the nuns and certainly the time, what motivation would Assad have to initiate shelling in the town at the exact time of the exchange?

The nuns and their protectors [JAN] weren't the only people to feel retribution over the hostage saga on March 10th. As soon as word was out that the nuns were released, Assad's force began a power attack on Yabroud. Although Yarbroud had been attacked for the previous 27 days, it was nothing like what crashed down on them on March 10th.

Assad's forces shelled Yabroud with heavy cannons and rocket launchers; as jets raided five different times from above. Also, helicopters threw as many as six explosive barrels on many areas in Yabroud. The Qalamon Media Center (QMC) has confirmed that there was more than "1000 injured soldiers," as well as, as many dead in the hospitals of Qalamon. The timing for the release of the Manoula Nuns to this attack is just a little more than coincidence.

What Was The Trade All About

Al Nusra took the 13 nuns of Manoula hostage for one purpose only. Their intention was to trade their release in exchange for 150 women and at least two children who were being held by the Assad regime. It took several months to negotiate a resolution and bring this deal to a closure.

At one point, al-Nusra was offered a cash settlement of $50,000 to release the nuns, however, they remained honorable to their mission. All offers would be rejected other than an exchange for the women in the custody of the Assad regime.

Commander Abu Azzam of al-Nusra had a very personal trade in mind which now explains the careful negotiations that took place and the rejection of any cash prize. The New York Times reported that part of the trade was a woman and two children. Those two children belonged to Abu Azzam. It has been the modus operandi of the regime from the beginning of the revolution to threaten or arrest family members to get at a wanted revolution protester or fighter.

Documenting The Exchange Of Assad Prisoners For JAN Guests

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Lies, Lies, and More Lies

At the Geneva-2 conference, the Assad regime categorically stated that there were no children being held in captivity for any reason. The Syrian Coalition knows this is untrue and confronted the Regime negotiating team on this issue at the conference. Amongst all the lies the regime has been caught in over the past three years, here is one more lie that they have been caught in on video. No one can now dispute that the regime has held children in their custody.

The children of Commander Abu Azzam appear to be under the age of 5 years old. Hardly old enough to understand what has been happening to them, but certainly old enough to be terrified. In the video, you could hear the little girl crying when she saw her father but was still held back by her captors. Then it was also shown how happy the children were once they were in the van in the safety of their father's care.

The Assad regime cannot be trusted. It doesn't matter what the topic is, trust is not in the equation. The regime has lied about who they are fighting against, stating their opponent is terrorist. They have lied about who they have in their prisons, and what the condition of those prisoners are. They lie about their persistently aggressive behavior against non-combatants such as women, the elderly and children. They deny destroying entire housing communities. All of this is in direct conflict with International Law.

Do You Really See Syria?

It is hard to imagine what it is like to be Syrian. Can you imagine living with the impact of the Assad war machine "in your face" everyday with no hope it will ever end? This is how the people of Syria feel every day, because they do not have anyone to turn to. No one is coming to their rescue.

If this moves you to ask the question: What can I do to help?

This story has information on how to help

Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution (a short documentary about Aleppo)

Do You Stand With Syria?

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Kimberly Jones is a global nomad who writes about international issues, however, she has a special interest in Middle East and North Africa affairs. Read more stories by Kimberly Jones.

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