About a dozen nuns held in Syria for more than three months have been released and are on their way to the capital Damascus via neighbouring Lebanon, a Lebanese security source said on Sunday.
The nuns had been transferred to the Lebanese town of Arsal earlier in the week, the source said, and were now on their way back to Syria.
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 Maaloula and taken to the nearby Syrian rebel town of Yabrud, where they were held by an al Qaeda-affiliated group, al Nusra Front.
The nuns arrived at Jdeidet Yabus after midnight on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon, after an arduous nine-hour journey that took them from Yabrud into Lebanon, then back into Syria via the official crossing.
An AFP journalist at Jdeidet Yabus said the nuns appeared exhausted, and that one of them had to be carried out of the vehicle transporting them.
Speaking to reporters at the border, one of the nuns said: "We want to thank God, who made it possible for us to be here now. We thank President Bashar al-Assad for being in contact with the emir of Qatar (Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani).
"We will not forget the honest mediator, Abbas Ibrahim," she added, in reference to Lebanon's general security agency director.
After being held in the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla in Maaloula, they were reportedly moved to the town of Yabroud, about 20 km (13 miles) to the north, which is now the focus of a government military operation.
It was unclear why they had been released.
In December, the nuns showed up in a video obtained by Al Jazeera television, saying they were in good health, but it was not clear who filmed the video, where it was made or under what conditions.
Syria’s Christian community has broadly tried to stay on the sidelines of the country’s three-year-old-conflict, which has killed over 140,000 and displaced millions.
But the rise of hardline Islamists among the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim opposition has alarmed many, as the fighting in Syria has become increasingly sectarian.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-09