NEWS

Greece concerned about kidnapping of Orthodox bishops in Syria

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in contact with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All The East, John X Yazigi, and other senior Greek Orthodox Church officials following reports on Monday of the kidnapping by armed rebels of two prominent Syrian Orthodox bishops in the northern province of Aleppo.

Syrian state news agency SANA said on Monday that the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi (photo), were seized by "a terrorist group" in the village of Kfar Dael as they were "carrying out humanitarian work."

Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has been in contact with Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, currently in Brussels attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, and is being briefed on what steps are being taken to locate the two clerics and to ensure their safe release.

"Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who has been in constant contact with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Archbishop Ieronymos, is being regularly briefed on developments," Kedikoglou said.

He added that Avramopoulos has spoken with the interim chief of the Syrian opposition, George Sabra, who assured the Greek government that all steps will be taken to ensure the release of the clerics.

A Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, told Reuters that the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey.

Several prominent Muslim clerics have been killed in Syria's uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but the two bishops are the most senior church leaders caught up in the conflict which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.

Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people and, like other religious minorities, many have been wary of the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Fears for their future if the rebels were to end 40 years of Assad dynastic rule, which ensured religious freedom without political rights, have increased with the growing strength of Islamist rebels and a pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda by the hardline Nusra Front rebels two weeks ago.

Steifo said Ibrahim had gone to collect Yazigi from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing because he had crossed there several times before and was familiar with the route.

The two men were driving to Aleppo when they were kidnapped, he added. Asked who was behind their abduction, Steifo said: "All probabilities are open."

[AMNA, Reuters]

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