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Seizure of nuns fuels Syrian Christians' fears

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

DAMASCUS — Syrian Christians offered prayers on Sunday for a group of more than a dozen nuns and orphanage workers held by rebels for nearly a week, stoking fears in the minority community that they are being targeted by extremists among the fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.

The seizure of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and at least three other women is the latest attack to spark panic among Syria's Christians over the strength of al-Qaida-linked militants and Islamic radicals in the nearly 3-year-old revolt against Assad's government. A priest and two bishops kidnapped by rebels remain missing, and extremists are accused of vandalizing churches in areas they have captured.

Rebels seized the nuns on Monday from the Greek Orthodox Mar Takla convent when fighters overran Maaloula, a mainly Christian village north of Damascus that lies on a key highway and has changed hands several times in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces.

The video stoked the worries of Christians who gathered for a Mass at the Mariamiya Church in Damascus, the main Greek Orthodox church in the country.

“They're coming after us,” Odette Abu Zakham, a 65-year-old woman in the congregation who lives in the nearby historic Christian district of Bab Touma. “All they do is massacre people, all they know is killing.”

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