By Ed West
Two of the nuns speak with journalists on the border with Lebanon earlier today (Kyodo)
Twelve nuns kidnapped in Syria last December have been set free.
The sisters, who were taken by jihadis from the historical Christian village of Maaloula following a battle with Syrian government forces, were released yesterday. Four other people, also unnamed, were freed with them.

Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “I think they were not treated too badly as it is not in the interest of the kidnappers to do this.”

He also said that their release was “a sign of hope in this time of crisis”.

The patriarch said that the nuns had to travel 50 miles from Yabroud, the town where they were being held, to Lebanese border, “ and I don’t know where they will go this evening”

The Sisters were seized in December from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla in the historic town late last year, after a battle, which began when the jihadist al-Nusra Front attacked last September. Twelve people were killed in the battle, which also involved local irregulars fighting alongside government forces, including three people who apparently died because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.

According to local reports, the release was agreed as part of a deal in which the government would free women prisoners. It is said that the nuns were accompanied by a Lebanese security official and a representative from Qatari intelligence.

The patriarch also thanks Aid to the Church in Need for allowing his church to give help to 5,000 children: “1,000 in Damascus, 2,000 in Dina, and 2,000 in Homs.”

Last year the patriarch, on a trip to London, informed media that a third of Syria’s pre-war Christian population of 1.75 million had now fled their homes.

A leading Syrian bishop has called on the British to “stand with” Syrian Christians and thanked people around the world for their solidarity.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Bishop Antoine Audo the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and president of Caritas Syria, wrote: “Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is under mortal threat, in danger of being driven into extinction, the same pattern we have seen in neighbouring Iraq.

“Syrians lived together for many years as a country, as a civilisation and a culture without hate or violence. Most people are not interested in sectarian divisions. We just want to work and live as we did before the war, when people of all faiths co-existed peacefully.

Syrian Christians may face great peril, but we have a crucial role to play in restoring peace. We have no interest in power, no stake in the spoils of this war, no objective but to rebuild our society.”