DAMASCUS, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Kidnapping, rare in Syria in the past, is growing in incidence and scale as the country grapples with a three-year-old civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead and millions displaced.
Abductions, which started as a tit-for-tat tactic between rebels and pro-government forces, have turned into a way of living for the perpetuators.
On average, three cases of kidnapping occur in Syria on a daily basis, according to a recent report by the pro-government al-Watan newspaper.
Over the past few months, about 1,500 cases were reported in the northern city of Aleppo, 3,000 cases in the city's countryside; 150 cases were registered in the capital of Damascus and its countryside.
There had been 60 cases of abduction in the province of Daraa while Homs province recorded nearly 220 cases.
Kidnapping has been stepped up lately to reach women, children, and even the elderly.
The worsening situation has prompted the Syrian leadership to issue a presidential decree, providing that the abduction of people for whatever reason is punishable by death if the kidnappers maim, sexually abuse or kill their captives. Even those who do not harm their victims will be given a life sentence of " penal labor."
Kidnapping was almost unknown in Syria before the civil strife began. The first reported abductions in the conflict occurred in summer 2011 and involved Sunnis, many of whom support the opposition, and Alawites, who mostly support the government. In many cases, there were tit-for-tat kidnappings in which one group took a set of hostages to negotiate the release of others.
In December, a Syrian rebel group calling itself "Free Qalamoun " claimed responsibility for kidnapping 12 nuns and said it wanted to trade them for a thousand female detainees allegedly held by the government. Islamist fighters, who captured the Christian village of Maaloula north of Damascus, moved the nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla to the nearby town of Yabrud.
Last month, the committee to protect journalists ranked Syria as the single most dangerous place in the world for journalists. It said about 60 journalists were abducted last year, and at least 30 were still missing by year's end. Twenty-nine others were killed. Many of those killed and abducted are Syrians who were covering the war on the ground.