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Egyptian captors release American pastor, other hostages

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By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) – Kidnappers in Egypt have released two Americans, one of them a pastor, and their Egyptian tour guide, after holding them hostage for three days, a news source stated Monday.

Mohamed Fadel, writing for the online presence of CNN in a report to which CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz and Ed Payne contributed, cited Gen. Ahmed Bakr, head of security in northern Sinai.

“They are at security headquarters with us now, in good condition. The negotiations succeeded, but we did not give in to the kidnappers’ demands,” said Gen. Bakr.

CNN reported the Americans were happy and relieved to be free.

“We are heading directly to Israel to join the members of our church as soon as we get our passports sent to us from Cairo,” said Michel Louis, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Boston.

“I tell my family I am in good health and in good spirits, but I have not taken my medicine since Friday, so I am a little tired.”

Family members had previously said that Louis suffers from diabetes and they weren’t sure if he had his medicine with him, according to the CNN report.

Lisa Alphonse, a parishioner at another American church, said the group was “treated really well,” the CNN report said.

Earlier Monday, a senior Egyptian government official told CNN that intelligence officers had visited with the alleged kidnapper, Germy Abu Masouh, on Friday and on Sunday, and communicated with him by phone.

“We saw the hostages, who seemed to be composed, but in a state of shock and fatigue from the grueling heat, especially Michel Louis, who said he had suffered a minor diabetic attack and avoids eating much,” the official said before the hostages’ release.

CNN said that Abu Masouh, a member of a prominent Bedouin tribe in the Sinai, had said he wanted Egyptian police to free his uncle, whom Bakr said had been caught in Alexandria, Egypt, with a half-ton of drugs.

CNN also reported that family members said the two Americans and their guide were taken hostage Friday when gunmen boarded their tour bus, which was on its way to Israel.

Louis offered himself as a hostage after gunmen took the female parishioner, his son, the Rev. Jean Louis, told CNN on Monday.

“Being the leader of the missionary group, my mom said that … he stood up and he just asked that they leave the lady and take him. So this is why there’s two people in addition to the translator detained right now somewhere in Egypt,” he said. Michel Louis’ wife was on the bus when the kidnapping occurred.

Jean Louis told CNN the family was not aware of security concerns about travel across the Sinai, where Americans had been kidnapped and swiftly released in two separate incidents since February.

“If we were aware, I would believe we would use correct judgment not to enter that area,” Louis said.

According to the CNN report, Bakr earlier said the situation was “partially the fault of the travel agency,” which he said had not informed police of their route. If it had, “we would have sent a police escort,” he said.

Kidnappings and armed robberies have increased since the “Arab Spring” popular uprising which ousted Egypt’s long-ruling dictator, Hosni Mubarak, last year.

Ancient synagogue discovered in Galilee excavations

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By Elisa Moed, Founder and CEO of www.Travelujah.com
ASSIST News Service

HUQOQ, ISRAEL – A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (circa fourth and fifth centuries C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.

The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., and the University of Toronto in Canada.

Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.

Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). This second season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges, chapter 15).

In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.

“This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq),” said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religious Studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue’s walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly.”

Excavations are scheduled to continue in the summer 2013.