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Two Christian archbishops kidnapped in Syria

April 23, 2013 at 4:26 PM

ALEPPO, Syria, April 23 (UPI) -- The Syrian government and opposition leaders blamed each other for the abduction of two archbishops traveling outside Aleppo, officials said.

Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi were kidnapped Monday as they were traveling back to Aleppo after doing humanitarian work in southern Turkey, The New York Times reported.

Their driver was killed, Vatican Radio said. Their vehicle was abandoned in the countryside, opposition activists told the Times.

The official Syrian news agency SANA reported the two were seized in the village of Kfar Dael by "terrorists," the government's term for the opposition.

Ibrahim had initially been supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling the country's Christians not to abandon Syria, the Times reported, but he recently turned more critical. In an April 13 interview with the BBC, Ibrahim said as many as a third of the country's Christians had fled the country, and he couldn't blame them due to the "difficult circumstances in terms of security and the threats they face daily."

Yazigi was not known to have made political statements, the Times said.

Vatican officials said Pope Francis had been notified of the kidnappings and was praying for the clerics' safe return.

Vatican Radio called the incident "a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and the Christian communities in Syria are living."

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in a statement it is "deeply saddened and concerned" at Yagizi's abduction.

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