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Christians Grow Weary Over Rising Threat of Kidnapping in Syria, Iraq

17 Jul 2015 – By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Arab Christians are viewing with growing concern and revulsion an uptick in kidnappings of both their clergy and civilians as violence worsens in Syria and Iraq.

In mid-July, another Catholic clergyman went missing in Syria, making him possibly the eighth clerical victim of apparent abduction in the war-ravaged country.

Melkite Father Tony Boutros, 50, and his Muslim driver were first reported missing by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based watchdog, which tracks the conflict using sources on the ground, said the priest serving in the southern city of Shahba was believed to have been kidnapped by unknown assailants after celebrating Mass on 12 July.

The news followed the release of Father Dhiya Aziz, an Iraqi Franciscan serving in northwest Syria, who was abducted on 4 July and freed five days later. Father Aziz was serving as a parish priest at Yacubieh, a village in Syria’s Idlib province.

Pope Francis demanded on 9 July an immediate end to “a form of genocide” of Christians taking place in the Middle East and beyond, describing it as a “third world war.”

“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

“In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end,” the pontiff said.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land reported the priest’s release, noting that he had been treated well during his ordeal.

The Jerusalem-based organization said that Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, apparently assisted in securing the priest’s release from another group responsible for the abduction.

“The Custody does not forget that other religious are still missing in Syria, and it invites everyone to continue praying for peace in this country,” said the organization, which that protects Christian sites throughout the Holy Land.

In May, Syriac Catholic Father Jacques Mourad was kidnapped from the St. Julian Monastery near Qaryatayn, where he is the superior.

Over the years, Father Mourad worked to restore the monastery located in the Syrian desert. He has also been instrumental in working to improve relations among Muslims and Christians.

Such incidents underscore the “significant danger of kidnapping at the hands of a wide range of extremist or opportunist groups, faced by many communities in Syria and Iraq,” the Christian rights group Middle East Concern said on the rising number of abductions.

“Minority communities feel especially vulnerable to abduction, including kidnappings for ransom,” it said.

Christian civilians are also under increasing threat of abduction.

In late June, four Christians were abducted in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The abductions resulted in the deaths of two people, even though ransoms had been paid by family members. The others were released including one following police intervention.

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Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians Violence against Christians