Syrian nuns say they weren't kidnapped

Beirut, Dec 6 (EFE).- A dozen nuns from a convent in northern Syria appeared in a video aired Friday on Al Jazeera to say that they were not kidnapped during a rebel assault on the Christian community of Maaloula.

The sisters from the Santa Takla convent disappeared Monday after a rebel contingent that included jihadi elements overran the town north of Damascus.

"A group brought us here and protected us, and we're very, very happy with them," one of the nuns said on the video, explaining that they were forced to flee Maaloula because of the fighting.

Another of the women described their lodgings as a "very, very nice villa," but she did not disclose the location of the residence.

Syrian authorities earlier accused "terrorist groups" - their usual term for the armed opposition - of invading the convent and kidnapping the nuns.

The spokesman for the opposition Military Council for greater Damascus, Musab al Khair, told Efe the nuns were moved in accord with the rebels promise to relocated residents of Maaloula.

But the Arabic international daily Al Sharq al Ausat published on Friday a statement from a rebel faction claiming to have kidnapped the nuns.

The group said it would free the sisters if the government agreed to release 1,000 opposition members from prison.

Al Khair, however, insisted the nuns were the protection of the Free Syrian Army.

At least 125,835 people, including more than 11,000 women and children, have died in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, the opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week.

The figure includes deaths that occurred from the first protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime on March 18, 2011, to Dec. 1, the London-based group, which has a large network of activists on the ground across Syria, said.