Nuns freed after hostage ordeal arrive in Damascus
DAMASCUS (AP) -- Syria's state-run news agency says that Greek Orthodox nuns who were freed Monday after being held hostage for months by al-Qaida linked Syrian rebels have arrived in Damascus.
The agency said that the 13 nuns reached the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Qassaa in the Syrian capital to a popular welcome by residents.
The nuns were released early Monday in a rare deal between the Syrian government and rebels of the Nusra Front. About 150 imprisoned Syrian women will be released in exchange for the nuns' freedom.
The nuns, along with 3 other women, were taken from their convent in the Christian-dominated town of Maaloula during clashes in December.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
The international rights group Amnesty International is accusing the Syrian government of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity by blockading and starving civilians in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk.
Amnesty says it estimates 200 people in Yarmouk have died of hunger-related illnesses since a yearlong blockade on the area was tightened in July by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In a report released Monday, Amnesty said its research showed that 128 people starved to death.
Assad-loyal forces began blocking the Palestinian-dominated area to flush out rebels and to punish civilians for harboring them, in a policy the government has used across Syria since the uprising began three years ago.
Efforts to reach a truce in Yarmouk allowing food deliveries to starving residents have repeatedly collapsed.