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kidnapped Syrian bishops freed

Written By Joseph Y. Musa on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 4/23/2013 05:24:00 pm

A church official says two bishops who were abducted by gunmen while traveling in northern Syria have been release.Two Syrian bishops who were reportedly kidnapped carrying out humanitarian work in the northern province of Aleppo have been released, according to a Christian association.

Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi said the kidnapped priests, Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, were released on Tuesday and arrived safely in the city of Aleppo.

It was not immediately clear who kidnapped the men.

Syrian state media reported that the two bishops were seized by rebels while they were on a humanitarian mission and their driver was killed.

But the opposition accused the regime of being behind the abduction, which was condemned by Pope Francis and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kidnappings have become increasingly prevalent in Syria as law and order has broken down with the spread of the conflict between rebels and loyalist troops.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said the kidnapping "has sent a lot of concern to the Christian community in Aleppo and throughout Syria".Several prominent Muslim clerics have been killed in Syria's uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but the two bishops are the most senior church leaders caught up in the conflict. 

Activists and human rights groups say minority groups, including Christians, have been particularly vulnerable.
Christians account for about five percent of Syria's population, and they have remained largely neutral or supportive of the regime since the outbreak of the uprising against the government in early 2011.

But the Syrian opposition also includes prominent Christian members, including George Sabra, a long-time dissident who was named interim head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition on Monday.
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