Syrian Priest Released After a Week in Captivity

Franciscan priest serving in northern Syria released after almost a week in the hands of allegedly jihadist kidnappers.

Ben Ariel, Canada ,

Syrian Christians fear for their future
Syrian Christians fear for their future

A Franciscan priest serving in northern Syria has been released after almost a week in the hands of allegedly jihadist kidnappers, his church announced on Friday, according to AFP.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, with which he is affiliated, said on its website that Father Dhiya Aziz, a parish priest at Yacoubieh, in the northwestern province of Idlib, was apparently "treated well" during his ordeal.

The priest went missing last Saturday.

"Conflicting news had nevertheless led people to believe that he had been taken by jihadists affiliated to Al-Nusra Jabhat (Front)," Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the church said.

"This group has denied any involvement in his kidnapping and allegedly led the police investigation in neighboring villages which led to his liberation," it said.

The Iraq-born priest was "allegedly abducted by another group of jihadists eager to profit on his release".

The Assyrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the 41-year-old was taken from the "convent of the Immaculate Conception, where he was living," in the majority-Christian village of Yacoubieh.

Most of Idlib province is under the control of Al-Nusra and its allies since a large-scale operation earlier this year to expel the regime.

Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013. In addition to fighting the Assad regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival ISIS.

Christians made up some five percent of Syria's population before its war broke out in 2011, but many have since fled, especially with the rise of jihadist groups.

Several Christian religious figures have been kidnapped in Syria.

Among them are two senior Aleppo clerics -- Archbishop Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The two were kidnapped in April 2013, and Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio went missing three months later. No news has emerged of their fate.

Christians in both Syria and Iraq have been in the crosshairs of jihadist groups, particularly ISIS. Tens of thousands have been forced to leave their homes, threatening an already embattled ancient community with extinction.

In some areas of both countries, Christian militias have formed to fight back against the Islamists.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)