A group of freed nuns arrived in Damascus today after being captured by Syrian rebels back in December.
The 13 Greek Orthodox nuns and three maids were held for three months after being taken from their convent in Maaloula but were released early thanks to Qatur-Lebanese mediation, which saw 150 women and children also released.
Speaking to AFP, one of the nuns said: "They have received us well. We have been living happily. We have never felt sad."
It is believed they were held by the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group associated with Al-Quada operating in Syria and Lebanon, after they were captured on December 3rd last year.
The nuns maintained they had mostly been treated well, with one of them claiming: "We were happy until last moment."
Although the rebel force maintained the nuns were taken for their own protection against government shelling, Syrian officials maintained their capture was part of a larger attempt to intimate the minority Christian population.
Their freedom was one small part of a larger prisoner exchange involving around 150 children and women held by the Syrian government.
Speaking to press near the Lebanon border, despite their exhaustion, the nuns praised God and those who negotiated their release.
"We will not forget the honest mediator, Abbas Ibrahim," one nun added - referring to Lebanon's general security agency director.
The nuns’ plight highlighted the fraught atmosphere towards Christians in the region, as many Christians have gradually become embroiled in the complex conflict.
The nuns’ initial base – Maaloula – is one of the few locations where residents still speak the ancient Aramaic of Jesus Christ.