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European Union Calls For Immediate Release Of Abducted Syrian Bishops

European Union Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton has called upon captors of the two Orthodox bishops of Syria to immediately release and return them safely to their communities.

Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim were on their way to Aleppo from the Turkish border on April 22 when they were kidnapped by gunmen.

Yaziji is the head of the Greek Orthodox church in Aleppo, while Ibrahim the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of the northern city. Sources in both Churches said the kidnappers were believed to be Chechen fighters, who stopped the car and killed the bishops' driver.

In a statement issued on behalf of Ashton on Friday, her spokesperson said she had expressed serious concern about the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the bishops.

"The High Representative is dismayed that religious leaders whose role is to tend to the spiritual needs of their communities are becoming targets in the Syrian conflict. There can be no justification for such attacks," said the statement.

Ashton condemned all acts of violence and kidnappings in Syria, and added that "innocent civilians, religious leaders and humanitarian workers must not fall victim to this terrible conflict."

The Syrian Opposition distanced themselves from the kidnapping, casting doubt on the Assad regime which they are fighting.

Christians are minority in Syria, accounting for just five percent of the Muslim-majority population. Attacks and abductions targeting them have increased since the anti-Bashar-al-Assad uprising began in March 2011.

Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, had called for the release of the Orthodox bishops earlier this week.

by RTT Staff Writer

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