‘Qatar in talks with militants to free Syrian nuns’

‘Qatar in talks with militants to free Syrian nuns’
Wed Jan 15, 2014 08:52:07

Reports have emerged revealing Qatar is in talks with the Syrian opposition to secure the release of 13 Syrian nuns held by militants in a town near the border with Lebanon since early December.

While some media reports said the Persian Gulf country had suspended its mediation attempts with the militants, a security source in Arsal said a Qatari delegation had visited the Bekaa Valley town less than two weeks ago to meet with its mayor, Ali Hujeiri, and seek his help to release the nuns.

There is effectively no policing of the border on the road between Arsal, a northeastern Lebanese town bordering Syria’s Qalamoun region, and the Syrian town of Yabroud, where the nuns are reportedly staying or being kept in the home of a Christian family.

The security source said that in Yabroud, the Qatari delegation met with representatives of those holding the nuns, who demanded, among other things, the release of a number of militants held in Lebanon.

The Greek Orthodox nuns disappeared from their convent in the historic Syrian town of Maaloula in December.

In a video aired on Al-Jazeera channel last month, the nuns said fierce shelling and bombardment had forced them to depart their Maaloula convent. The nuns, who insisted they had been moved for their own safety, appeared to be in good health in the video.

A few days after they disappeared, the rebels responsible demanded the release of 1,000 Syrian women held in Syrian prisons and the lifting of the army’s siege of eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, in exchange for the nuns’ freedom.

Hujeiri told The Daily Star Monday that he was “cooperating with other parties to help with the release of the nuns,” adding that he had received a Qatari delegation earlier this month at his residence in Arsal to discuss the case.

He did not elaborate, saying he did not want to jeopardize ongoing efforts to release the women.

He also said he had recently dispatched his own delegation to Syria to negotiate with the rebels.

Hujeiri has strong links to the Syrian opposition, while Arsal is also known for its fervent support of the rebels. It is already hosting more than 40,000 refugees, many of whom have fled the fighting in Qalamoun.

The town has also become a haven for Syrian fighters crisscrossing between the two countries via the porous border.

Ibrahim has also been in contact with Qatari officials as part of efforts to secure the release of the nuns and the two bishops.

BA/BA

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