Syrian Activists Say Al-Qaida-Linked Rebels Gain Control of Christian Village 9/8/13
September 8, 2013
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - Syrian activists and state media are providing dramatically different accounts of the battle over a Christian village northeast of Damascus.
The activists say rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters have gained control of the village, Maaloula. The state SANA news agency says the army is reporting "progress" in its offensive against the rebels and inflicting "heavy losses."
The scenic mountain community is known for being one of the few places in the world where residents still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic.
The rebel advance into the area this week was reportedly spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities in particular about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Nusra Front backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes with the army late Saturday. He said pro-government fighters remain inside the village, in hiding.