Beirut: An Egypt-based Syrian dissident said on Saturday that his 25-year-old pregnant wife was abducted by Syrian intelligence agents in Cairo, then released and left unconscious on a street elsewhere in the Egyptian capital. The Syrian embassy in Egypt strongly denied the claim.
Thaer al-Nashef, a vociferous opponent of President Bashar Assad`s regime, said his wife, Mona al-Gharib, was found by an elderly woman who used al-Gharib`s cell phone to call her mother.
"I haven`t seen her yet, I`m not sure about her condition, but the woman who called said she seemed weak," al-Nashef said, declining to give more details as he was on his way to see her.
The Syrian embassy in Egypt strongly denied the abduction claim, calling it "lies fabricated by Syrian dissidents in Egypt" seeking to harm Syrian-Egyptian relations.
An Egyptian police official confirmed that al-Nashef had filed a kidnapping complaint but gave no details about the circumstances. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end a bloody crackdown on an uprising against Assad`s rule that the UN says has killed more than 3,500 people.
Arab League economy ministers were scheduled to meet in Cairo on Saturday to consider the possibility of sweeping economic sanctions against Syria, which could include halting flights and imposing a freeze on financial dealings and assets.
The move against a nation that was a founding member of the Arab bloc came after Damascus missed a deadline for agreeing to an observer mission aimed at stopping the violence.
Syria blames the violence on armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy and has vowed to hit back. Ghassan Abdul-Aal, the governor of the restive city of Homs, insisted on Saturday that the Syrian government would continue its suppression of "criminals" following the killing of six elite pilots on Thursday in an ambush.
Abdul-Aal spoke during the funeral procession in Homs of 17 members of the armed forces killed recently in various attacks, including six pilots and four technical officers who were killed in Thursday`s ambush. Many of the attacks against Syrian security forces are believed to be carried out by a group of Army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army and other Syrians who have increasingly taken up arms against the regime after eight months of largely peaceful protests.
The Syrian Information Ministry organised a trip for Syrian journalists to Homs to attend the funeral.
Sobbing and burying her face behind his photo, the mother of Intisar Dayoub, one of the six pilots, urged the government to punish the perpetrators and to "hit with an iron fist against whoever tries to ruin our country”.
Separately, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 Syrian soldiers were killed overnight in clashes with Army defectors in the city of Deir el-Zour. The report could not be independently verified.
Despite the violence, Assad still has a firm grip on power, in part because the opposition remains fragmented and he retains the support of the business classes and minority groups who feel vulnerable in an overwhelmingly Sunni nation.
Al-Nashef said his wife left their home in Cairo`s Mohandeseen neighbourhood Friday afternoon to visit her parents nearly two miles (some three kilometres) away, but she was abducted before she got there.
At the time, he was giving a television interview about the situation in Syria in a studio in Cairo and was informed of the kidnapping through an anonymous text message he received on his mobile phone after he left the studio.
"We have your wife and we are going to sexually assault her so that you learn how not to insult your masters again," the text message said, according to al-Nashef. It was from an Egyptian phone number.
After informing the media about the news and filing a police report, he received further messages threatening to kill his wife and throw her body in the Nile if he doesn`t stop talking, al-Nashef said, adding that he had been receiving other threats from Syrian agents for weeks.
"They sent threatening messages to me and my wife, accusing me of being a traitor. They threatened to kidnap my wife," he said.
He later said she was found on a street in the Marg district elsewhere in the city.
Al-Nashef worked as a correspondent for Syria`s state-agency SANA until 2006, when he became a regime opponent. He has lived in Egypt since 2007 and has been a vocal opponent of the regime, appearing often on Egyptian TV stations to discuss the uprising.