Abducted Orthodox archbishops 'released'

Church official says two Syrian Orthodox archbishops abducted by gunmen have safely returned to Aleppo

Archbishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi, of the Greek Orthodox Church, and Archbishop John Ibrahim, of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, have been released after being abducted by armed rebels in Syria on Monday. A Greek Orthodox bishop has said that both clerics have returned safely to Aleppo. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, during which the bishops' driver was killed

The Greek Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi The Greek Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi A Syrian church official has said that the two Orthodox archbishops who were abducted by gunmen while travelling in northern Syria have been released.

However, Greece's foreign ministry is not confirming the news, saying that it is "continuing to follow developments closely". 

Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi says the kidnapped clerics – Bishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church – were released on Tuesday and have arrived safely in the city of Aleppo.

"The two are on their way to the patriarchy in Aleppo," Bishop Yazigi told Reuters in the capital Damascus.

He added that the two archbishops were abducted by armed rebels late Monday from the village of Kfar Dael, and their driver was killed by the gunmen.

It was not immediately clear who kidnapped the men.

The Greek government had earlier called for the release of the two Syrian clerics, who were seized by "a terrorist group" in the village of Kfar Dael as they were "carrying out humanitarian work", Syria's official new agency Sana said.

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

In Athens, the foreign ministry set up a crisis management team to work for the clerics' release.

Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, in Brussels for a Nato meeting, expressed the support of the Greek government to the patriarch of Antioch, John X, who heads the Greek Orthodox church in Syria.

"We're going to talk about this [the kidnapping] – and not only about this dramatic development. The international community should work together in order to put an end to the drama of the Syrian people," Avramopoulos said.

He also requested the help of the European External Action Service, which coordinates EU foreign policy, to secure the bishops' release, and for the new caretaker leader of the Syrian National Coalition, veteran dissident George Sabra, about the abduction.

Born in Lattakya in Syria, Archbishop Yazigi holds a doctoral degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Christians make up less than 10% of the Syria'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.

Writing in January, Archbishop Yazigi said was important that the uprisings known as the "Arab Spring" should not jeopardise centuries of religious diversity in the Middle East.

"What is the spring without the diversity and richness of colours in comparison with the haze...of winter? Diversity is richness while monochromatic uniformity is a ticking bomb that kills its owner," he said. 

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Dimitris Avramopoulos