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Syrian opposition leader does not know whereabouts of missing bishops

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/syrian.opposition.leader.does.not.know.whereabouts.of.missing.bishops/32632.htm Syrian opposition leader does not know
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2013
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      http://www.christiantoday.com/article/syrian.opposition.leader.does.not.know.whereabouts.of.missing.bishops/32632.htm

      Syrian opposition leader does not know whereabouts of missing bishops

      Syrian opposition leader Sabra now says he doesn't know of bishops'
      whereabouts, after giving more certain account two weeks ago
      Published 24 May 2013 | Nuri Kino, World Watch Monitor

      The leader of the Syrian opposition coalition is backing away from
      previous reports that he is certain of the location and condition of two
      Syrian Orthodox bishops kidnapped April 22.

      George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Coalition, told World
      Watch Monitor on May 21 he is not informed of the movement of the
      bishops from day to day, or of the identity of the captors. This is a
      change from May 7 statements attributed to Sabra during a meeting of
      Middle East leaders in Beirut.

      Sabra also told World Watch Monitor the coalition is "doing our best" to
      expel the handful of Muslims who have come from Europe at the urging of
      jihadist groups with al-Qaeda links who count themselves among the
      broader Syrian opposition movement.

      Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, was
      kidnapped alongside his counterpart from the Greek Orthodox Church,
      Boulos Yaziji, after travelling to the Turkish border in an attempt to
      secure the release of two priests kidnapped in February. Their driver,
      Fathallah Kaboud, later was killed.

      Apart from an early flurry of erroneous reports that the clerics had
      been released, little was heard about their whereabouts, who snatched
      them, or why.

      That changed May 7 when Amin Gemayel, former president of Lebanon and
      current leader of its Kataeb Party, held a meeting in his Beirut office,
      according to the Lebanon Star.

      "The bishops are in good health and are being held by a small group in a
      town called Bshaqtin, 20 kilometers northwest of Aleppo," Sabra told
      Gemayel by phone during the meeing, according to the Star.

      Attending the meeting were Deputy Bishop of Aleppo Joseph Shabo, Mount
      Lebanon´s Syriac Orthodox Bishop George Saliba, Beirut´s Bishop Daniel
      Koriyeh and Syriac League President Habib Afram.

      Afram told World Watch Monitor the group had sought the meeting with
      Gemayel to seek his help securing the bishops' release. Instead, he
      said, they heard Sabra tell them he was powerless to help.

      "During our meeting, Syrian opposition leader George Sabra spoke with
      both Cheikh Gemayel and Bishop Saliba over the phone. Sabra claimed that
      he knows where the abducted bishops are and who the kidnappers are. I
      find it outrageous that one of the most powerful leaders of the Syrian
      opposition says he knows where they are but can´t do anything to release
      them."

      Afram, Secretary General of the Union of Lebanese Christian Leagues and
      a prominent defender of the fate of Christians in the Middle East, said
      Sabra's inability to secure the release of the bishops has troubling
      implications for the future of Christians in Syria.

      "Sabra said things like 'This is not giving a good impression of our
      revolution and we promise to take all possible actions to get them
      released'. But that is only words," Afram said. "We emphasised that if
      he can´t control his own area — the place where the bishops were
      kidnapped — then how can he claim that he can change Syria for the
      better? And how will he be able to make Christians remain in Syria?"

      Contacted May 21 by World Watch Monitor, Sabra gave a less certain
      accounting of the bishops than he was reported to give May 7.

      "You know that the bishops are moved always day by day or from week to
      week. So therefore we don't know the place exactly," he said.

      He also said the coalition isn't sure who is behind the kidnappings.

      "About this we have different information, we have new news that we will
      check. We have news that they are in Aleppo. We can't say that this
      information is real, we have to check."

      When asked how he knows the bishops are moved, if anyone has spoken to
      them, and if there is any evidence they are alive, he replied, "you
      know, by our people inside Syria that interrogated the groups."

      "Really we believe that they are alive," he said. "But there is no clear
      picture of that. We are doing our best, but right now we didn't succeed."

      Thousands of Christians have fled the violence in Syria, and church
      leaders say the abductions have accelerated the exodus. Sabra said he
      wants Syrian Christians to remain courageous.

      "We are aware of the impression these gives to our revolution," he said.
      "But we are doing our best. Syrian Christians have been living in the
      country for thousands of years. And they should be courage enough to
      stay in their homeland."

      Sabra, himself a Christian, insisted there is no evidence Syrian
      Christians are under pressure because of their religion, despite
      testimony to the contrary from Christians inside Syria and those that
      have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

      "Maybe there are some small events here and there," he said, "but we
      have not the right to exaggerate with these events to tell it as a fact,
      as a truth, of the life in Syria. Really it is not true. And the only
      way to protect Christians, as to protect other Syrians, is to push
      Bashar al-Assad's regime out of power and start a new era in Syria with
      (a) civil state, democratic state, with elections, constitution, a law.
      This is the only thing which (will) help all people in Syria to be
      protected in their country."

      Sabra also rejected any comparisons of the impact of Syria's drawn-out
      civil war on Christian nationals to the flight of Christians from
      neighboring Iraq.

      "We have here two major principal differences here in Syria," he said.
      "Iraq was occupied by foreign troops, and also they have a neighbour
      considered an enemy to Iraqis for many years, I mean Iran. So the effect
      of the occupation and the effect of Iranians inside Iraq caused the
      situation. In Syria we have something different. I'm sure that
      Christians will stay and live in Syria as they did for hundreds of
      years. It's their country. In Syria we have thousands of churches and
      nobody can prove or give one example of a church being persecuted by
      Muslims."

      Still, when pressed, Sabra acknowledged one similarity to Iraq of grave
      concern to resident Christians: the presence of imported Islamist
      militants, some of them aligned with al-Qaeda. An April report by the
      International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, at London's King's
      College, estimates that somewhat less than 10 percent of the opposition
      fighters are from outside Syria, and that between 7 percent and 10
      percent of that fraction come from Europe.

      "We are sorry to hear about that," Sabra said. "We were informed about
      two young people from Belgium. Believe me, we are doing our best to
      contact these people and to operate with the European community and the
      European governments to save their lives and send them back home to
      their countries safely."

      Meanwhile, Afram said he meets with Christians that have fled Syria
      every day in his office in Lebanon. "People are kidnapped on a daily
      basis for ransom or just to scare them to leave," he said. "Christians
      are systematically targeted by kidnappings."

      He said if the bishops are alive, Sabra should employ the power of his
      position to win their release.
      "George Sabra should act and he should show leadership capability, or
      leave" Afram said. "He should exercise direct involvement, even take
      risks to go himself with (the) army of the opposition to negotiate the
      release of the bishops. Make (a) clear statement regarding his
      (objection) that bishops were treated like this."

      Source: World Watch Monitor
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