By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Syrian Christians fear that a prominent priest has become the latest victim of ongoing kidnappings by Islamic militants, though dozens of believers were reportedly released by the Islamic State group on Christmas Day.
Franciscan priest Dhiya 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.
In a statement seen by BosNewsLife, the Franciscan mission group ‘Custody of the Holy Land’ said it had lost contact with Aziz but added it “is reasonable to assume that he has been kidnapped.” by some group. “We are doing all that is possible to understand who could have kidnapped him.”
The priest, who is Iraqi, was also abducted on July 4 this 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.
The Custody said the feared abduction came while its priest 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.
PHONE CONTACT LOST
“The last contact by telephone was registered was on December 23 at 9.00 a.m. From that moment nobody knows where he is. He should have arrived at Yacoubieh during the early hours of the afternoon of the same day….There is absolutely no news regarding…Dhiya [Aziz] and other passengers,” his Fransican group explained.
The Custody said it has been trying to contact “various factions on the ground” for more information but “up till now there have been no results”.
Unfortunately, “the chaotic situation in the country does not permit us to achieve much,” the group stressed.
His abduction overshadowed reports that some 25 Assyrian Christians were released by the Islamic State group, including 16 children. The release, reported late Monday, December 28, came after the group freed 25 Christians on December 9 and 47 during November, Christians told BosNewsLife.
They were among more than 230 Christians abducted in late February this year when Islamic State fighters captured around 35 predominantly Assyrian villages
along the Khabour River in Syria’s Hassaka Governorate.
“The recent releases follow negotiations over many months by church representatives,” said advocacy and aid group Middle Eastern Concern (MEC), which has been closely following the situation.
SCORES STILL DETAINED
“It is estimated that around 85 Christians from the Hassaka villages remain abducted”. In addition, many Christians are understood to be among more than 200 civilians abducted by the Islamic State group, also known as ‘Daesh’, in August in the al-Qaryatain area of Homs Governorate and many “remain unaccounted for,” the group told BosNewsLife.
Several church leaders abducted in 2013 also remain missing. 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 in July 2013.
Syrian Christians urged prayers for both the recently kidnapped priest and others still being held by militants and for those who were released.
In a statement distributed by MEC they also asked prayers that “those responsible for the murder and abduction of innocent civilians will know the Spirit’s conviction of sin, seek the Father’s forgiveness and find new life in the Son” Jesus Christ.
“We invite all to pray and show solidarity with [abducted] Father Dhiya, with his parishioners, with his confreres in Syria, with the spiritual leaders and pastors and all those who are still dedicating their lives and energies in that country to do good to all,” added the priest’s Fransican mission group.
Syria’s conflict 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.’
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