Hezbollah: The kidnapped Aleppo bishops are not in the hands of ISIS

Hezbollah: The kidnapped Aleppo bishops are not in the hands of ISIS

By Giorgio Bernardelli/ lastampa.it

Leader Nasrallah reports that negotiations on the surrender of militants in the mountains between Lebanon and Syria have also included talks about the fate of the two clergymen missing since April 2013.

The two bishops of Aleppo kidnapped more than four years ago are not in the hands of Isis. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed so in a televised speech last night where he revealed there had been talking about the bishops’ fate during negotiations leading to the ceasefire in the mountains of Qalamoun, the area at the border between Syria and Lebanon. News of a series of kidnappings was asked by the Lebanese Shiite movement to the emissaries of the so-called Caliphate in exchange for a permit that allowed some hundreds of militants to leave the area escorted by the Syrian army and reach - with their families - the city of Deir ez Zor, one of the last strongholds in the hands of men under the black flags.

Lebanon officials’ focus was mainly on the fate of a group of soldiers kidnapped in Arsal in August 2014 when the jihadist forces had taken control of the area. Sixteen were released in December 2015, as part of an exchange of prisoners between the Beirut government and the Nusra Front. Now Isis has indicated to Hezbollah the places where other eight soldiers of the group were buried and investigations are currently underway on the found bodily remains. Nasrallah has revealed that the talks included also news on the two bishops of Aleppo - Syriac Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi, kidnapped on 22 April 2013 - and Lebanese cameraman Samir Kassab, kidnapped in October of the same year. "In both cases - the Hezbollah leader said - the Islamic State has told us that it does not know anything."

Indeed, the two prelates were abducted much further north, in the area between Aleppo and the border with Turkey, probably while negotiating for the release of other kidnapped persons. It is therefore more likely that their seizure was handled by militias near the Nusra Front, still strong in the Idlib area in Syria. The fact that Nasrallah explicitly wanted to cite the case of the bishops of Aleppo has probably a political meaning over the internal balance of Lebanon. The context was in fact a speech in which the Hezbollah leader claimed victory over ISIS as a "second liberation" of the country, obtained by his own movement and not by the regular army.

Beyond this, however, the fact remains that with the collapse of ISIS in Syria, the question of the fate of hostages of whom there hasn’t been any news for years has come to the fore. For the case of the two bishops - for which the two respective patriarchs, Mar Ignatios Aphrem II and Yohanna X, in April, on the fourth anniversary of their disappearance, complained of having been left "to an obscure fate" - the key to knowing their destiny is likely to be found in Turkey. During the first months of the kidnapping, there were evidence that the two clergymen were seen across the border in Turkish territory. True or false, it is unlikely that the militias supported by Ankara in northern Syria cannot be unaware of how it all ended up.

Different is the case of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, the Roman Jesuit disappeared in Raqqa on July 29, 2013. From the very beginning, local sources in fact attributed his abduction solely to Baghdad-related militias. And today, even in Raqqa, Isis - pressed by the advance of the Kurdish militia, backed by American aerial support - seems to have its days counted; the moment of truth on Father Dall'Oglio’s fate might be approaching.

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 12:11
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