Syria Opposition Chief 'Seeking Release of Bishops'

Interim opposition chief George Sabra was Tuesday working to secure the release of two bishops kidnapped in a north Syria village, a Greek official said, as a fresh wave of violence hit the country.

On the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was attending his first NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, with Syria the focus, while U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon urged an end to arms supplies to Syria's rival sides.

In Athens, Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou confirmed early Tuesday the kidnapping of Greek Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Paul, and Syrian Orthodox bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, first announced late Monday by Syria news agency SANA.

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has spoken by phone to Sabra, newly-appointed head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who said he would act immediately to locate and liberate the bishops, the spokesman said.

SANA had reported the pair abducted while conducting "humanitarian operations" in Kafr Dael village in Syria's northern province of Aleppo.

"Terrorists intercepted the bishops' car in Kafr Dael village, took the driver out of the car and kidnapped the bishops," it said.

Christian residents of Aleppo reached by Agence France Presse said Ibrahim set out in his car to pick up Boulos Yaziji (Bishop Paul) from the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border, which is under rebel control.

The car was intercepted on the way back by gunmen who kidnapped the bishops and killed their driver, the residents said on condition of anonymity.

Kidnappings have become increasingly prevalent in Syria as law and order has broken down.

Activists and human rights groups say minority groups, including Christians, have been particularly vulnerable.

"Christians are sometimes more targeted by kidnappers since they have not organized themselves into militias under a tribal system," Antoine Audo, the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, said in an interview with AFP earlier this year.

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 Sabra, a long-time dissident who was named interim head of the main opposition Coalition on Monday.

Source: Agence France Presse

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