North American Archdiocese says that media reports are 'not true' and they have 'not been released'
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
ALEPPO, SYRIA (ANS) -- The BBC is reporting that, according to a church official, two bishops who were abducted earlier this week by gunmen in a rebel-held area of northern Syria have been released.
The bishops -- Boulos Yaziji (left) and Yohanna Ibrahim -- are the most senior Christian clerics kidnapped since the conflict began
"The pair have returned to the city of Aleppo, Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi told Reuters," said the BBC story.
"The senior clerics, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were seized on Monday as they were travelling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo.
"It was not immediately clear who had kidnapped them."
Bishop Ibrahim is the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, while Bishop Yaziji leads the city's Greek Orthodox Church.
They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war.
But now, the Assyrian International News Agency (www.aina.org) is reporting that they have not been released.
They quoted a statement posted on the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (www.antiochian.org) which says that they have not been released.
Here is the text of the statement: "There have appeared many reports in both the Eastern and Western press that the two hierarchs who were abducted yesterday by terrorists in Syria, Metropolitan Boulos Yaziji, Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo, have been released.
"His Eminence Metropolitan Philip spoke by phone this morning to His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, who said that these reports are false, and that the release of these two hierarchs has NOT taken place.
"We ask you to continue to pray for their safety, and eventual release."
Abductions on the rise
Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo close to where the bishops were abducted. (Photo: Reuters/Malek Al Shemali)
Kidnappings have increased dramatically in Syria in the past year but the abduction of such high-ranking Christian figures is unusual, the BBC's James Reynolds reports from the city of Istanbul, in neighboring Turkey.
Christians made up about 10% of the mainly Sunni Muslim country's population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began just over two years ago.
"President Assad's government has hoped to retain their loyalty, based on a shared fear of what might happen if Sunni Muslims take over the country," said the BBC correspondent.
"But some Christians have chosen to join the opposition - including George Sabra, the newly appointed leader of the opposition coalition," he added.
State TV earlier announced that an "armed terrorist group" had kidnapped the two bishops as they carried out "humanitarian work in [the] Aleppo countryside."
Their driver is thought to have been killed in Monday's kidnapping attack.
Abdulahad Steifo, a Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is close to the Turkish town of Reyhanli.
Asked who was behind their abduction, he said: "All probabilities are open."
In an interview with BBC Arabic's Saeed Shehada a week ago, Bishop Ibrahim said he was optimistic about the future of Christians in Syria.
"There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians. Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians," he said.
In view of what happened, maybe he spoke too soon!
According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war and more than one million are now living as refugees in neighboring countries.