"Syrians are the only ones who will decide their destiny, and that decision will be taken in Damascus, not in a European country."
Metropolitan Philip passed away in Florida on 19/03/2014 he was being treated for a heart condition. The Archbishop was a strong voice for peace in Syria and did not hesitate to challenge the American administration with regard to its support for terrorists in Syria. Two of Archbishop Philip's letters to President Obama can be read here and here.
"A camera tour by el-Nashra crew in the newly liberated town of Yabroud reveals how many Christian churches have been deliberately desecrated by Wahhabi terrorists from the Western-backed "Free Syrian Army" (FSA), the "moderate" Islamic Front, and their close allies from al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front). Yabroud, which was a week ago considered the last terrorist bastion in the strategic mountainous Qalamoun area neighboring Lebanon, fell to the Syrian Army last Sunday, March 16, 2014."
The Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady is a place of shame, of burnt copies of the New Testament, paintings slashed with knives - many were lying in strips of gold and red fabric beside the altar's broken cross - and mosaics chiselled from the walls. Sceptics may ask if the regime performed this act of sacrilege - for the benefit of cameras - but it must have taken weeks to have wrecked this place of worship with its ancient columns and to have gouged out the eyes of the mosaic saints.
The Islamists had attacked a mosaic of St George and the Dragon - and had even gouged out the dragon's eyes as well as those of the unfortunate knight. You cannot call such sacrilege an infamy. But you have to ask how Syria can ever repair relations between its Muslims and Christians after such vandalism. Perhaps the answer is never, although in an act of immense courage, the Muslim civilians of this ancient town protected their Christian neighbours to the end..........
Um Qusai claimed that the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters - who like her were Sunni Muslims - forced the people in the town to pay high prices for the food they brought in. The Christians had to pay even higher prices as a tax because of their religion. And much of the food, she said, was UN humanitarian aid from across the border in Lebanon - presumably from the refugee camps in which supporters of the rebels have sought safety. Full article here
Photos from Yabroud's Melkite Catholic Church via the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
Although the gunmen are gone, their sectarian fingerprint on Yabrud remains. All you have to do is visit St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church to see the destruction. Icons have had their faces scratched out, church pews have been broken, statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ have been smashed, and the church Bibles have been burned. View here
Syrian voices: A short film, with English subtitles, from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society marking the third year since the beginning of the Syria crisis. It presents the voices of some of the people who've been through it -- mothers, children, volunteers -- how that has impacted their lives, which challenges they face on a daily basis, and which hope they have for the future.
The Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Syria held its spring session in the course of one day, 12 March 2014. Due to difficult travel conditions inside Syria, the Assembly was held at the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal residence in Rabweh (Antelias, Lebanon.)
The Assembly dealt with the programme prepared by Chorbishop Mounir Sakkal, Secretary to the Assembly.
At the end of the meeting, the Assembly published the following press-release:
1- The Syrian crisis is now in its fourth year. Our situation can be described in the words of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”
2- We pray for the repose of all victims. We pray for the healing of all sick, injured, handicapped or marginalised persons in distress. We remember the kidnapped, especially our
two brother bishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazagi, the two priests, Michael Kayyal and Ishaq
Mahfouz, and many other sons and daughters of our parishes.
3- We declare our rejection of all forms of extremism, takfirism, murder and extortion, and all attacks on people and buildings. We condemn attacks on places of worship, whether churches or mosques. The number of damaged or destroyed churches of all denominations is now around one hundred.
4- We should like to express solidarity with our beloved country, Syria, its people and government. We support all efforts towards a peaceful, just and rapid solution to the crisis, especially through a continuance of the Geneva talks. We want a united, free, democratic and pluralistic Syria, with the same citizenship criteria for everyone, and we want a worthy life for all constituents of Syrian society, irrespective of party.
5- On the occasion of Great and Holy Lent, we invite our sons and daughters to fast and show solidarity, charity and collaboration in alleviating the sufferings of internally and
externally displaced persons. We need the grace of fasting, prayer, spiritual strength, faith, hope and love. We must not give way to feelings of despair, frustration and fear, despite our tragic,
terrible suffering that is daily increasing. We hear the voice of the Holy Father Pope Francis and thank him for his support, love and prayers for Syria. He tells us, "Let us never lose the courage
of prayer!”He also says, "Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts." We call upon everyone, especially Christians during Great Lent, to ensure that the whole of Syria become
so many hands raised in prayer. May Lent cause the feelings and power of hope to spring up in us!
6- We beseech the Lord to lead our tragic, bloody way of the cross towards the dawn and joy of the holy Resurrection. Let Syria return to its former state of peace, security, love, kindliness, communication, fellowship, mutual respect, living together, and a worthy life for all citizens.
7- We appeal to all citizens, asking them to work for peace by all means, both local and international and emphasise the need for a cease-fire, dialogue, reconciliation and reconstruction. We all have the responsibility of working hard for peace.
8- Our special thanks go to His Holiness Pope Francis, together with our congratulations on the first anniversary of his pontificate. We also thank all (especially Catholic) international institutions for their support offered with the aim of alleviating the suffering of all Syrian citizens.
May the Virgin Mary, our Lady of Damascus and Saidnaya, and all other Marian places of pilgrimage, keep Syria under her protection: may she spread peace and love throughout the
country. We appeal to the conscience of all nations, and especially those countries capable of playing a decisive role in the Syrian crisis, to find a way to end the crisis.
With the Church we pray, “Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God.”
With the Lord we say to the sons and daughters of our parishes:
“Fear not, little flock!
Be light, salt and leaven!”
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem
President of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Syria. Original here
Residents of the Christian town of Saidnaya have refuse to receive the Maaloula nuns. It was expected that the freed nuns would go to live, temporarily, at their sister convent Our Lady of Saydnaya, as the convent of St. Tekla has been looted and burned by the rebels. However it does not appear possible currently as residents express anger at comments made by the Maaloula nuns and are refusing to recieve them.
The residents of the ancient Syrian town of Saidnaya have refused to receive the Maaloula nuns, who were released from captivity last Monday (10/03/2014). The refusal comes as the result of comments made on camera to the rebels by Reverend Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, Superior of St. Tekla , and other nuns during the time of their release and transfer. Some Syrians including a section of Saidnaya’s residents have taken exception to the fact that the nuns actually thanked the kidnapers who had held them captive for almost 4 months, describing the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliated group as “a nobel man” and also thanking Qatar for their part in negotiating the release. Qatar has been a major financier and proponent of sectarian violence in Syria.
must be understood that the nuns have withstood a great trauma. They did not go willingly with their captors, they were abducted. On arriving at the place where they were first detained they required
the services of a doctor as some nuns were suffering from temporary deafness caused by the explosion of a bomb used by the terrorists to blow open the Iron doors and gain access to the convent and
the nuns. Threatening to blow open the door of the convent was how terrorists gained access to the convent when they first attacked Maaloula in
The nuns of Maaloula are well aware of the horrendous atrocities committed by the rebels who not only looted and burned the convent of St. Tekla but also destroyed the entire town. These al-Qaeda affiliated rebels have committed acts of brutality beyond all comprehension and what the nuns were saying must surely have been for the sake of self preservation. However the negative reaction of some Syrians is itself symptomatic of the trauma they have suffered as individuals and as a nation who have withstood 3 years of terror. The nuns are lucky to have survived and may only have done so because they were a valuable commodity to their gaolers.
The Orthodox patriarch of Antioch has issued a statement to clarify the issues that have arisen as result of the comments made on camera by some of the kidnapped nuns. The patriarch points out that the comments do not represent the Churches’ position but that the nuns were under duress and the effects of a prolonged abduction. 'We confirm to all Syrians, Christians and Muslims, sons and brothers, that these statements (of the nuns) do not represent the Church's position, and it's coming due to the pressure of a long arrest. And we are not here trying to justify it, nor analyze the circumstances surrounding it.' The Patriarch went on to state that acts of terrorism and kidnapping effect every segment of the Syrian society and all are paying dearly for ideologies alien to the values of the nation. In conclusion the Patriarch asked that God may protect Syria its people and its president, and said that from the depth of his heart he yearned for a return to peace. Original statment in Arabic here
Gregorios III, Melkite Catholic greek Patriarch of Antioch, said the nuns’ release was “a sign of hope in this time of crisis.”
The 13 nuns and 3 lay women who were held captive for more than 3 months by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria were freed on Monday evening (10/03/2014). The nuns made an ardours journey which seen them transferred from the rebel-held town of Yabrud, Syria out into Lebanon to the town of Arsel, itself a stronghold of radical islamists, and then back into Syria via the official crossing. The Cathedral church of the Cross in Damascus was packed to capacity as people gathered to give the nuns an emotional welcome. A service of thanksgiving was held for their freedom.
The release of the nuns took place at this time essentially because their value as captives was diminishing by the day. Government forces were daily coming closer to recapturing the area in which the nuns were being held and thus the al-Qaeda group holding the nuns came to an agreement lessening the long list of conditions and demands they had originally set. Lebanese secular daily newspaper al Akhbar reported the following. “The release of the kidnapped nuns from Maaloula is yet another development linked to the ongoing battle in the Qalamoun region in Syria. Over the span of the three months that the nuns were held hostage, their captors constantly made more demands, including the release of all Islamist detainees in Syria and Lebanon. The kidnappers only slowly began to abandon some of their demands as the soldiers of the Syrian army and Hezbollah came closer to the city of Yabrud.
A knowledgeable source of the behind the scenes details of the negotiations told Al-Akhbar that "the kidnappers became certain that the Syrian army and Hezbollah would enter Yabrud soon, meaning the nuns were no longer a high value bargaining chip.” As the Syrian army and Hezbollah continued to advance in Qalamoun, they decided to strike a deal for the nuns’ release.”
While the news of the nuns release was met throughout the region with general rejoicing for some it was a time of mixed emotions particularly in Syria. In
order to affect the release of the nuns the Syrian government were forced to release approximately 150 prisoners many members of Jabhat al Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated group which has engaged in the most heinous acts of terror against the Syrian people leaving tens of thousands dead in their
wake. The negotiated release also provided a pretext for NATO regional ally, Qatar to further finance acts of terror in Syria under the pretence of calling it ransom money. The Qataris are said
to have paid $16 million to the al-Qaeda group as part of the conditions for the release of the nuns. Over the last 3 years Qatar alongside Saudi Arabia has been a principle funder of the
violence in Syria.
Publishing the full story behind the nuns' release, Assafir newspaper said that in the wake of the kidnapping, two tracks of negotiation started on the basis that the nuns were not hostages but guests who were to be freed easily, just like the Syrian opposition figures used to echo in order to cover up the kidnapping politically.
"Before Qatar joined negotiations in the first weeks of the kidnapping, and during the second assault on Maaloula on December 2, 2013, Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti (deputy of Abu Malik al-Tali, Al-Nusra Front emir in Qalamoun) restored the kidnapped group from the first kidnapper and the previous smuggler between Lebanon and Syria, Methqal Hamama who is one of the leaders in the so-called Sarkha Brigades," Assafir narrated.
"In the beginning, the kidnappers called the United Nations office in Damascus. Yet, following a Skype-call between the ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, head of UN bureau, and al-Kuwaiti, Lamani refused to move to Yabroud and to negotiate with al-Nusra Front directly as the UN urged him not to communicate directly with the black-listed front," it said.
Another track of negotiation kicked off in parallel with the first, when the Yabroudi businessman, George Hassoani, played a prominent role. He wasn't a real mediator, but as a figure close to the Syrian government, he used to transfer the exchanged offers in coordination with the Lebanese Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.
Sometimes, and in order to gain time, Hassoani used to restore things to their proper framework when dealing with the kidnappers and replying to the permanent negotiator, Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti, who did not take off his explosives belt while talking to Hassoani via Skype.
During negotiations, the kidnappers and the hostages moved to a residence
home of Hassoani in Yabroud, which Al-Nusra Front had confiscated during his absence. The businessman paid the costs of the kidnappers throughout
their stay in his three-floor home in order to improve the nuns' conditions and facilitate a means to communicate with them (the kidnapped nuns appeared twice within three months in televised
The kidnappers repeatedly echoed that they were not looking for a ransom, but for a swap deal to release the detained women in the Syrian prisons. At the beginning, they presented hundreds of names, but decreased the number to 138 arrested women with a condition that the Syrian government should set free the Iraqi Saja Hamid al-Dulaimi, wife of one of al-Qaeda Iraqi leaders, along with her three children.
Syrian government refused the condition since Dulaimi doesn't hold
the Syrian nationality, and stressed that the government does not have any kind of information about 66 names of the 138 submitted, in addition to that 10 of them had been freed
Demanding the release of Dulaimi convinced those who were following negotiations that Kuwaiti was only a representative, and that true negotiators were somewhere else, because Kuwaiti was not able to answer the offers at the moment they were made.
Later, it was unfolded that he was nothing more than an intermediary in the negotiation process, which was controlled by other parties in al-Nusra Front and remotely directed by Abu Mohammad al-Golani, al-Nusra emir in the Levant.
The Syrian track in the negotiations stalled earlier this year,
and the Qatari channel was activated in coordination with General Ibrahim. During the last month, Qatari envoys visited the area around the Arsal mountains in North Lebanon, and began to speak
directly to the kidnappers, but without achieving the slightest progress. The kidnappers provided Ibrahim with a list of the detained Syrian women that included no less than a thousand names, but the
Syrian authorities neither agreed to negotiate it nor to consider it serious.
It was striking that the list included about 150 names of the "Islamists" detained in Roumieh prison in Lebanon, most of who are of non-Lebanese nationalities. Ibrahim's position was firm in refusing the release of any of Roumieh prisoners.
A Syrian official said that negotiations have been revived a few days ago, following important ground developments in Yabroud amid fierce battles in Qalamoun and the dispersion of militant groups which include ten thousand fighters on all fronts, and after the first kidnapper, Mithqal Hamama was killed in one of the Syrian army ambushes in the region.
A week ago, the kidnappers decided to leave the house of George Hassoani in Yabroud as the army was approaching it, along with the fall of strategic hills around Rima Farms on the outskirt of Yabroud. At this point, the detained nuns were distributed to a number of sites in Yabroud.
Here, the nuns' file appeared strongly to be bartered for what is beyond the ransom. Two days earlier, Abu Yazan, commander of the so-called 'Ghorabaa Brigade' in Qalamoun, called again a mediator in the Qatari channel and asked him to accelerate the completion of the deal, on condition they get 16 million dollars and the release of all the names mentioned in the list, adding again Saja al-Dulaimi, her three Iraqi children and her husband.
Abu Yazn also opened the security and military files, demanding a cease-fire around Yabroud and a halt of shelling against it. He also called for securing safe corridors for 1500 gunmen from Yabroud to Rankous and Arsal, but this condition was been flatly refused.
According to a Syrian source, the Qataris paid the ransom, and that the Syrian authorities had agreed to release detainees, but the security and military files have been entirely ruled out of any negotiations, always according to the Lebanese daily Assafir.
A video circulated by the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists shows the nuns at the time of their transfer and release in which they praise and thank the rebels.
Their comments on this video have been cited by some western media even by Catholic media outlets like AsiaNews.it all of whom seem oblivious to the fact that these women are under serious duress at the time. A similar situation arose back in September of 2013 when their convent was first attacked by the Jabhat al Nusra. Rebels filmed the nuns saying they were all well and unharmed etc. However it transpired afterwards that the nuns had been threatened by the rebels. To gain entrance to the convent, the rebels told the nuns if they did not open the door they would put a bomb under the door. The nuns had no choice but to admit them and appear on their video. In December the rebels did detonate a bomb at the convent door and then entered and kidnapped the nuns.
Above: a member of Jabhat al Nusra in the Qalamoun region, the area in which the nuns were held, can be seen here undertaking the ritualised slaughter of a man by cutting his throat with a knife. The image was posted on an al-Qaeda related Twitter account less than 4 weeks ago.
A Coalition of Christians and Muslims, made up of Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, and Syrians - American citizens in Los Angeles demonstrated this weekend in front of the Turkish Consulate under the title "Stop your aggression against the Syrian people". Turkey, a NATO member state, has with other NATO states and alongside Qatar and Saudi Arabia been a major contributor to the violence that has beset Syria for the last 3 years.
First images of Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf, Rev. Mother of St. Tekla one of the nuns freed this evening by the terrorists who kidnapped them. All 16 nuns were kidnapped from their convent on December 2nd last. Reliable reports state that the Syrian government released 150 prisoners both men and women including al-Qaeda terrorists in order to effect the release of the nuns.
Via Al-Akhbar newspaper Lebanon: Nuns abducted in Syria by an armed group four months ago are supposed to have been freed as of Sunday afternoon, and were expected to arrive in Lebanon shortly, the Greek-Orthodox Council announced on Sunday.
The Council thanked those who contributed to the nuns' release and securing their safe arrival in Beirut, the Lebanese National News Agency reported.
The 13 Syrian and Lebanese nuns and three maids were kidnapped from the famed Christian hamlet of Maaloula in December and transported to the nearby town of Yabroud, a rebel stronghold the Syrian army is fighting to recapture.
Negotiators had lost contact with the nuns on Thursday.
Raqqa Syria “all sisters to wear the full-face veil in public, in line with Islamic morality. Women must wear Islamic dress, which consists of the full-face veil and an abaya to cover the whole body, in addition to gloves. Women are not allowed to raise their voices in the street or walk at a late hour without a male guardian.” ISIS
News via Orthodox news outlet Pravmir
Contact has been lost with the nuns of Syria’s Maloula town abducted by armed opposition groups in northern Damascus city of Qalamoun, according to a source familiar with the negotiation file on Thursday.
The source said that the nuns are likely to have been transferred out of Yabroud city.
“Contact has been lost with the nuns since yesterday, and probably they have been transferred to an area between Yabroud and the Lebanese border,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“Contacts are underway to determine their destiny and to secure their safety, and religious authorities will issue a statement soon about this fateful humanitarian issue.”
The source pointed out that since nuns had been kidnapped from the monastery of Mar Takla in Maloula by a group of al-Nusra Front, led by a man calling himself Abu Malek al-Kuwaiti who has contacts with them while detained in a house in Yabroud.
“The 14 detained are 13 Lebanese nun and one Syrian, in addition to three women working in the monastery, which was concerned in orphaned children,” he explained.
He also said the kidnappers filed during this long period of negotiation a group of demands which are “difficult to achieve” in order to release the detainees.
“Among those demands are the release of Syrian women from the regime prisons, withdrawal of the Syrian army from Christian religious sites such as Sidnaya, and getting supplies, especially bread, in addition to the military demands regarding the Yabrood battle.” Original article here
News via Syriac news outlet Gazire
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Levant) ISIS who have imposed strict Taliban like Sharia law on the inhabitants of Raqqa city are said to have arrested 10 school girls aged between 15 and 17 years old. They were arrested outside their schools for violating elements of the new laws imposed by ISIS.
Although the students were clothed in accordance with the dedicates of the terrorists their eyebrows and or some hair was visible and this was sufficient for the fanatics to detain them for breaking the new laws. One of the school staff was also arrested and there after she had to be hospitalised possibly due to a beating received while being detained. Full article here in Arabic
A graphic video shows a girl being strangled to death in Manbij, Aleppo, Syria for refusing to conform to the extremist Islamic beliefs imposed by ISIS the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (levant) terrorist group. The footage, shows a girl being strangled with a piece of metal wire by a hooded executioner. Graphic Video here
The General Union of Syrian Women marked International Women’s Day on Saturday, with a sit-in at the United Nations Headquarter in Washington D.C. The delegates of the Women’s Union handed a statement to the UN Office, demanding that the UN applies pressure against those nations who provide weapons and funds to terrorist organizations in Syria so as to stop the state-sponsored terrorism. More here
Extract from the Lenten encyclical of Patriarch John X
"Jesus chose the path of the Cross, and drank from the chalice of death to simply tell us that the tribulation of our times will not overshadow our hope for light, and that hardship cannot eclipse the brightness of resurrection.
Entering this redemptive period of the Great Lent, we have bid farewell to brothers, fathers and mothers, who were taken away by sudden or forced death, but we anticipate to meet them in Christ's light.
"We shall not celebrate without them. We did and shall spare no endeavour to ensure their safe return."
Brethren! Despite their severity, these times reinforce the spirit of consolation, growing our sense of empathy. Lent is based on love, reinforced by almsgiving and completed with the leaven of purity and chastity." Full text here
The Terrorist group ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria also referred to as Daash have live tweeted the images of a brutal act of mutilation inflicted on a male victim in the town of Maskanah, near Aleppo. The victim was sentenced to have his hand chopped off for an alleged act of theft. The large butchers clever used to commit this atrocity was unsharpened, it took 6 complete blows of the clever and several sawing / cutting actions of the blade to completely sever the victims hand from his arm. Children were present to witness this act of brutality. Following the amputation one of the terrorists paraded the severed hand as the gathered crowd were encouraged to repeat the chant Allahu Akbar (God is great). An article about the incident can be read here in the British newspaper The Daily Mail.
WARNING: A video showing the graphic act of brutality by these terrorists can be viewed here.
"We Syrian Christians, sold by the West for oil”
H.B. Youssef III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch
Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam. It is a religious movement among fundamentalist believers, which originates in Saudi Arabia and promotes a Takfiri mentality which believes that all those including fellow Muslims who do not follow their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam are to be considered as kafir (infidel)
Note: The United Kingdom government in concert with the United States, France, its NATO partners and its Gulf regime allies have assisted in the training, funding, arming and the provision of logistical and intelligence support to the opposition armed factions in Syria. Today the vast majority of these fighters follow a radical extremist ideology that principally originates with British /French/American ally Saudi Arabia.