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Syrian Rebels Release Nuns Kidnapped in December

A group of nuns who were kidnapped by rebels released in exchange for women prisoners who were held in regime jails.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/10/2014, 5:46 AM

A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front fires a mounted machine gun
A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front fires a mounted machine gun
Reuters

A group of nuns who were kidnapped by rebels in the Syrian town of Maalula in December were released on Sunday night, thanks to Lebanese-Qatari mediation and handed to the Syrian authorities, AFP reported.

A monitoring group said the release was secured in exchange for some 150 women prisoners who were being held in Syria's regime jails.

The 13 nuns and three maids were kidnapped from the famed Christian hamlet of Maalula and taken to the nearby Syrian rebel town of Yabrud, where they were held by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

They arrived at Jdeidet Yabus on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon after an arduous nine-hour journey that took them from Yabrud into Lebanon, and then back into Syria, reported AFP.

The nuns appeared exhausted, and two of them had to be carried out of the vehicle transporting them.

The rebels who captured the historic town assaulted it by rolling explosive-filled tires down the hills onto regime forces and were able to reach the city center after three days of intense fighting.

Al-Nusra Front, whose leader pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, took an active part in the capturing of the town.

Christians have been caught in the crossfire of Syria's war. In one incident, jihadist rebels publicly beheaded a Catholic priest, in the northern Syrian town Idlib, when he was deemed to be collaborating with the Assad regime.

Last week it was reported that the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) released a document demanding a "protection payment" from the Syrian Christian population, leading to concerns that the rebel forces have been "mining" Christian communities in the embattled country for gold.

Under the strict Islamic Sharia doctrine, non-Muslims living under their sovereignty must pay a special tax -- known as the "Jizyah" -- in return for the ruler's protection, or “Thima.”