Kidnapped Syrian bishops 'remain captured'

Sources say two priests still missing despite claims of release, while fears mount for country's Christian community.

    Kidnapped Syrian bishops 'remain captured'
    The kidnap has stoked fears among Syria's Christians, many of whom prefer to live under the current regime [AFP]

    Two kidnapped Syrian bishops are still being held, sources have said, denying earlier reports that they had been released, and prompting calls by the international Christian community for their freedom.

    Sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the two leading Christian figures remained captured a day after Pope Francis called for their release.

    Early on Tuesday, reports quoting Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi said that Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, had been kidnapped while carrying out humanitarian work in the northern province of Aleppo.

    Later on the same day, reports said they had been released, quoting a Christian association.

    A priest at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in Damascus, who declined to be named, told Al Jazeera that the bishops have not been released.

    "We haven't heard anything from them. We do not know who kidnapped them," the preist said.

    "However, all what we know is from the media. We haven't had contact with anyone who may be involved in the kidnapping."

    It is still unclear who abducted the men.

    Syrian state media reported that the two bishops were seized by rebels and that their driver was killed, while the opposition accused the regime of being behind the abduction.

    "A rebel commander in Idlib told me he was sure they were not released," Al Jazeera's Basma Al Atassi, reporting from the Turkish border city of Antakya, said. "He said he believed they were kidnapped by an Aleppo-based battalion."

    Sectarian schisms

    The abduction has raised concerns for Syria's Christian community, many of whom favour living under the government of President Bashar al-Assad because they fear opposition forces would not protect their human and political rights if they come to power.

    In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the two patriarchates in Aleppo said: "The Christians in this part of the East are deeply saddened by what their country is going through, namely the violence, that is dividing the sons of the same country and endangering civilians who conduct their lives in peace.

    "Kidnapping is a terrible expression of this violence and it is to be condemned without hesitation as it threatens the lives of unarmed individuals.

    "We appeal to the kidnappers to respect the life of the two kidnapped brothers, and we call on everyone to put an end to all the acts that allow or create confessional and sectarian schisms among the sons of the same country."

    The statement added that followers of the Bible in the troubled country are "an essential part of the land".

    During a public address at the Vatican, Pope Francis called for the rapid release of the two bishops.

    "While I recall in my prayer the two bishops, wishing they return soon to their communities, I ask God to enlighten the hearts and I renew the invitation I made on Easter, so that the bloodshed could stop," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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