(ADDS MORE DETAILS, BACKGROUND)
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Suspected Islamic militants have freed Franciscan priest Dhiya Aziz, some two weeks after he was kidnapped in Syria, BosNewsLife learned early Tuesday, January 5.
“Today we received the communication that Father Dhiya Azziz has been liberated and that he is doing well,” said his Franciscan mission group ‘Custody of the Holy Land’.
Aziz, 41, disappeared after setting out from Lattakia on December 23 to return to his parish in Yacoubieh in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, Catholic sources said earlier. “He should have arrived at Yacoubieh during the early hours of the afternoon of the same day….”, the Custody said at the time.
It was not immediately clear which group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and whether any ransom had been paid for his release. “Due to confidentiality reasons we cannot give further details,” the Custody said in a statement seen by BosNewsLife. “We thank all those who helped us to liberate him.”
The Islamic State group is known however to have kidnapped hundreds of Christians, including church leaders, in Syria and the region.
Some hostages were beheaded, though dozens of other believers have been released in recent months.
Azziz, who is Iraqi, was also abducted on July 4 last year. On that occasion he was seized by militants in Yacoubieh and released after five days, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation. His latest abduction came while he tried to reach his parish for Christmas festivities after returning from Turkey, where he visited family who live there as refugees since Islamic State militants overran their native town of Karakosh in Iraq, Christians said.
While Syrian Christians welcomed his release, concerns remained Tuesday, January 5, over several other church leaders abducted in 2013. They include Armenian Catholic priest Michel Kayyal and Greek Orthodox priest Maher Mahfouz who were abducted in February 2013, Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yaziji kidnapped in April 2013, and Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio who was captured in July 2013.
Christians have been often in the crossfire of Syria’s conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded at least a million since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began over four years ago, according to rights activists.’
Syrian Christians said they have urged prayers for those still being held by militants and for those who were released.
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