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Confusion over kidnapped bishops release in Syria

Two Syrian bishops kidnapped by gunmen on Monday are still missing, according to several sources, contradicting a report that the men had been freed.

The two bishops were kidnapped as they carried out humanitarian work in the country.

Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, were believed to have been freed on Tuesday with reports suggesting they had arrived safely in the city of Aleppo.

It's still not clear who kidnapped the men.

One of the two bishops kidnapped in Syria had spoken about safety concerns and the rise of Islamist groups a week before he was abducted.  Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo were travelling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo in Syria when their car was set upon by gunmen. Reports suggest their driver was killed in the ambush and no one's claimed responsibility for the attack. It's believed the pair were on a humanitarian mission to free two priests kidnapped two months ago. Revd Nadim Nassar is a Syrian Anglican priest living in London, and spoke to Bishop Yazigi last week. He told Premier's Victoria Laurence on the News Hour that he had discussed some of the concerns Bishop Yazigi had about his own safety before the abduction:

Christians make up ten per cent of the population in Syria, and the UN says the two year conflict has claimed the lives of at least 70,000 and over two million are homeless with many living as refugees in nearby countries such as Turkey and Iraq. Aid to the Church in Need's Middle East projects co-ordinator has carried out fact-finding missions to the region.

Andrzej Halemba said the abduction signals that the situation for Christians and others in Syria is now "very grave".

He said:

"We are very concerned not just about the safety of the archbishops and the priests but the hundreds of others who have been kidnapped both in Syria and Lebanon.

"We ask for people's prayers and we pray for their well being. We pray that the country does not fall into the hands of fundamentalists."

Dr Harry Hagopian's an International Lawyer and Church Consultant.

He tells Premier's Marcus Jones the abduction is all too familiar.

George Sabra, the interim leader of the opposition forces, is said to be negotiating their release. He himself is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Razek Sirlani, the ecumenical relations and relief officer for the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo, is appealing for help.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need he said:

"If anything can be done including pressure on foreign embassies, especially in connection with Turkey, that would help - at least it would help to locate where they are and whether they are safe or not.

"We have no idea where they are or what their situation is."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said,

"We urge key members of the international community, and particularly those belonging to the "Friends of Syria" group, to make urgent representations to ensure these men are released swiftly and unharmed."

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