Ordeal ends for Syria nuns, part of prisoners deal
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian militants released yesterday a group of Greek Orthodox nuns in exchange for dozens of women held in government prisons — a rare deal between Damascus and al-Qaeda-linked rebels that was mediated by Qatari and Lebanese officials.
The dramatic scene of the nuns being freed from vehicles in the dead of night along the Lebanese-Syrian border, bidding their captors a surprisingly friendly farewell, ended the women's three-month ordeal. The nuns were captured as opposition fighters overran a Christian village and were held in a border town. They were released as government-backed forces battled their way into the strategic border town in which they were held.
It provided an unusual example of regional actors cooperating to reach across the Syrian civil war's sectarian and ideological fault lines, which have sharply split the Middle East.
The energy-rich Gulf nation of Qatar, a chief backer of the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, was involved in the mediation. Lebanon's General Security Chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim, a powerful figure trusted by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and its Syrian government allies, was on hand to receive the nuns.
The 13 women said they were treated well by their captors, members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. In a video released by the militant group, they appeared healthy saved for one elderly nun who was carried by a masked gunman to a waiting vehicle.