A group of Syrian and Lebanese nuns were recently evacuated from a convent in Maaloula, located to the northeast of Damascus. Opposition forces say that the nuns were rescued, whereas the Syrian regime and others are claiming that they were kidnapped. However, the mother superior of a neighbouring convent now appears to confirm the opposition’s account of events.
Maaloula and its historical convents have been under attack as opposition forces in the area confront sniper fire and rockets launched by regime forces based in the city of Katifa. The different accounts of what has happened to the nuns reflect one aspect of the struggle over narratives in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
Opposition forces explain that they decided to evacuate the nuns trapped inside the convent of Saint Mar Takla for their own safety. Among the nuns is the convent’s mother superior Pelagia Sayyaf. Several reports have confirmed that the nuns are now in the nearby rebel-held town of Yabrud.
The Catholic Church’s diplomat in Damascus, Monsignor Mario Zenari, told Vatican Radio that it was not clear if the nuns were taken hostage or were evacuated from the monastery to keep them safe from the ongoing fighting.
Syria’s foreign ministry and state-run news have called the episode a kidnapping and claimed that terrorists had taken the nuns and sabotaged the churches.
Pope Francis and Syria’s Greek Orthodox patriarch also suggested that the nuns were kidnapped and the latter appealed to the opposition forces to release them.
However on Tuesday, the mother superior of the Saidnaya convent, Febronia Nabhan, told the Associated Press that the opposition fighters moved the nuns to the rebel-held town for their own safety. Nabhan explained that Mother Sayyaf called her and said they were all “fine and safe”. According to their telephone conversation, “she and the 11 other nuns, accompanied by three young maids, were comfortably installed in a house in Yabrud and no one was bothering them,” Nabhan said.
Sayyaf had previously angered supporters of the Syrian regime when she appeared in a video produced by opposition forces to deny government reports that rebel fighters had razed and pillaged the Christian churches and community in Maaloula.