The head of the Levant Party – a mainly Greek Orthodox political group -- on Sunday announced “the beginning of an organized campaign” against Turkey's interests in Lebanon and the world in response to the abduction of the bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi and the Maalula nuns in Syria.
“We will fight alongside all the honorable people to preserve the diverse image of the Levant … We Christians had protected our Muslim brothers when they came under attacks and we will defend them today as well in the face of takfiris (Islamist extremists),” the party's leader Rodrigue Khoury said during a sit-in organized by his group outside the Turkish embassy in Rabieh.
“The Levant will not surrender its neck to you and we will not allow your thieves and terrorists to desecrate Antioch,” added Khoury, addressing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and accusing him of supporting the rebel groups that kidnapped the bishops and the nuns.
He went on to say: “We are part of a vast civilization that extends from Lebanon to Athens and Moscow. We repeat what we had said in the past: do not bet that we are a minority.”
Khoury announced “the beginning of a campaign aimed at unveiling the fate of the two bishops and liberating the nuns.”
“You will witness a campaign against your interests that will only end when we know the fate of our saints,” he added.
In response to a reporter's question, Khoury said “the campaign will not only involve one of Turkey's interests in Lebanon and the world, but will rather be an organized campaign and we will be in a legal confrontation with the Turks.”
“We will not reveal the means but we will stay under the law and Turkey will see our steps,” he added.
Speaking at the sit-in, Sheikh Abbas Zgheib, who had been tasked by the Higher Islamic Shiite Council to follow up on the issue of the Aazaz abductees, said “the kidnap of the bishops and nuns and the rest of hostages is not only of concern to the Christians of the Levant.”
“We declare our solidarity with our Christian brothers and tell them that we share the same wound. We tell Turkey that should these groups seize control of Syria, Turkey will never know tranquility,” Zgheib added.
He accused Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea of offering support to extremist groups in Syria, warning him that he would also be targeted by these groups should they infiltrate Lebanon.
Speaking in the name of the Maalula nuns, Rania Francis said: “If the aim of the armed groups was to fight the Syrian army, troops were on the outskirts of the town, not inside Maalula.”
Jihadists and opposition fighters on Monday entered the Syrian Christian town of Maalula and took 12 Lebanese and Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns from the Mar Takla Monastery to the Yabrud area in Qalamoun, near Damascus. The Vatican slammed the move as an “abduction.”
The 12 nuns join two bishops and a priest who are already believed to be held by hardline rebels in the Aleppo area, deepening concerns that extremists in the opposition's ranks are targeting Christians.
The Qalamoun region boasts a sizable Christian population and is home to the ancient Christian village of Maalula and its Mar Takla convent. Church leaders and pro-rebel activists said the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front seized the nuns from Mar Takla.
Maalula was a popular tourist attraction before the conflict began. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, a language spoken by Jesus.