By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
SYRIA (ANS) -- The nephew of Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, one of the two archbishops kidnapped in Syria on Monday, said he hopes Syrian Christians will not use the incident as a reason to flee the country.
According to a story by World Watch Monitor, Jamil Diarbakerli, who represents the Assyrian Democratic Organization (which petitions for the rights of the Assyrian minority) said Bishop Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, was kidnapped on Monday, alongside his counterpart from the Greek Orthodox Church, Bishop Boulos Yaziji.
They were traveling to the Turkish border hoping to secure the freedom of two priests kidnapped in February. They were Michel Kayyal, an Armenian Catholic and Maher Mahfous, a Greek Orthodox.
World Watch Monitor said the driver of the vehicle, Fathallah Kaboud, was later killed, although Diarbakerli said he learned from church sources in Syria that the shooting took place in another part of the city after Kaboud had driven to inform the bishop's office of the kidnaping.
Kaboud had been the personal chauffeur of Bishop Ibrahim for a number of years. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
World Watch Monitor said a fourth passenger escaped, but his identity remains unknown.
Reports on Tuesday claimed the bishops had been released, but these were later refuted by church officials.
World Watch Monitor said this latest kidnapping comes a week after Bishop Ibrahim told the BBC that there has been no targeting of Christians in Syria during the rebel uprising.
However, on April 17, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham told the press that more than 1,000 Syrian Christians have been killed and 20 churches destroyed.
World Watch Monitor said the bishop's nephew acknowledged that "there are parts of Syria where there is persecution of Christians." However, he said he believes his uncle's desire is for Syrian Christians to remain in the country, wherever possible.
"Things can change dramatically after the kidnapping of two important Christian leaders, but even though there is a war in Aleppo, the two bishops stayed and want their people to do the same - not to leave the country, not to empty Syria of Christians," he said.
World Watch Monitor reported Diarbakerli said the latest kidnapping has increased tensions between Muslims and Christians in Syria, but he is hopeful a resolution will calm things down.
"I don't want the perpetrators to win by using the archbishop as a weapon for religious and sectarian violence," he said. "I hope that all of Syria will cooperate to immediately find and release the bishops, because these kind of acts shall not serve any part of the conflict."