A group of nuns kidnapped by rebels in the Syrian town of Maalula in December were released early on Monday thanks to Lebanese-Qatari mediation and handed to the Syrian authorities.
A monitoring group said the release was secured in exchange for some 150 women prisoners who were being held in Syria’s regime jails.
The 13 nuns and three maids were kidnapped from the famed Christian hamlet of Maalula and taken to the nearby Syrian rebel town of Yabrud, where they were held by al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
Their release comes amid fierce fighting around Yabrud near the Lebanese border, months into a campaign by the army – backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah – aimed at crushing rebel positions there.
The nuns arrived at Jdeidet Yabus after midnight on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon, after an arduous nine-hour journey that took them from Yabrud into Lebanon, then back into Syria via the official crossing.