A Greek Orthodox priest who tried to negotiate the liberation of a Christian doctor in Damascus province was found dead on Thursday, residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The corpse of Fady al-Haddad, kidnapped last Friday (Oct. 19), was found this morning in Damascus province,” said the Britain-based Observatory.
Father Haddad served the St Elie parish in Qatana, a mixed Christian and Muslim town of 15,000 inhabitants 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Damascus.
One resident said he was found murdered near the town.
“He was negotiating the release of a Christian doctor with the kidnappers, who demanded 50 million Syrian pounds ($660,000). He had managed to reduce their demand” by half, he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Theft and kidnapping have become rampant in Syria, where criminals have taken advantage of the security vacuum caused by the fighting between rebels and the army.
“Last Friday, he went along with the doctor’s stepfather to pay the ransom, but they were also abducted and the kidnappers had increased their demands before the priest's body was found on Thursday,” the resident added.
The murder has sparked outrage in Qatana, where the priest was popular with Christians and Muslims alike for securing the release of a number of people, locals said.
Rare in a country plagued by civil war, state news outlets and opposition websites alike paid tribute to Father Haddad.
The Orthodox Patriarchate condemned the “savage crime” and denounced “attacks against civilians and religious figures who try to be messengers of peace under these difficult circumstances.”
It further called on humanitarian organizations and the public to “condemn all crimes and robberies which undermine the safety of citizens.”
The Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc in exile, called Father Haddad a “symbol of national unity,” and blamed pro-regime militiamen for his killing.
“The gangs belonging to the regime killed Father Fady Haddad in order to drag the country into sectarian strife,” SNC spokesman George Sabra said, calling for an official judicial investigation into the murder.
“National unity in Syria and in the town of Qatana in particular is too solid to be undermined by ignorant and hateful acts,” Sabra added.
“Father Fady was one of the symbols of national unity. Grant mercy on Father Fady Haddad, a martyr of the nation and humanity, and shame on those criminal killers who are destroying the country.”