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Syria nuns appear in video, deny kidnapped by rebels

Dec. 6, 2013 10:23 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 7, 2013 4:27 P.M.)
BEIRUT (AFP) -- A group of nuns from the historic Christian town of Maalula in Syria denied they were kidnapped by rebels, in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera news channel on Friday.

The brief video shows the women, apparently in good health and comfortable, dressed in black religious garb in a room.

It was unclear who was filming the women, and where they were.

"A group brought us here and protected us, and we're very, very happy with them," one of the nuns said.

An unidentified man asked the nuns questions, with several taking turns to speak.

It was unclear if they were being pressured to talk, and some of the women bowed their heads as the camera turned to them.

One insisted the group was staying in a "very, very nice villa" and denied claims that the women had been kidnapped.

The nuns were reported missing from the town north of Damascus after rebel forces, including Wahhabi militants, seized control of Maalula on Monday.

Religious officials said 12 nuns and three maids had gone missing from the convent, although one of the nuns in the video said they were 13 nuns and 3 "civilians."

Media close to the Syrian regime accused rebels of using the nuns as "human shields," and fears were raised for the safety of the women.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns missing from the Greek Orthodox Mar Takla convent in Maalula and "for all kidnap victims in the conflict."

In the video, several of the nuns said they were in good health and that they fled Maalula after intense shelling there.

They called for an end to the targeting of holy sites by all parties to Syria's bloody 33-month conflict.

On Tuesday, religious officials said the nuns were in the town of Yabrud, not far from Maalula in the Qalamoun region near the border with Lebanon.

The mother superior of the Saydnaya convent in Damascus province told AFP she had spoken to her Maalula counterpart who told her the 12 women were safe in Yabrud.

Maalula, a picturesque village cut into the cliffs some 55 kilometers (35 miles) from Damascus, has long been a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria.

Its residents are some of the few left in the world who speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.

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