fleeing one of the oldest Christian towns in the world on Sunday, after regime
forces failed to win it back from Islamist rebel fighters. Syria
The Daily Telegraph, 08 Sep 2013
Rebel groups, including a branch of al-Qaeda, have taken control of Maaloula, one of the few remaining villages where the language of Christ is still spoken, residents and activists reported.
“Our army, the Syrian army, has failed us,” said Sister Antoinette, a nun from Maaloula, claiming the regime had forsaken control of the town. “We called the army, we begged them to come inside Maalouola and save us but they stayed outside. They sold us because we are a minority. They abandoned us because we are Christians.”
The Syrian government denied that it had lost control Maaloula. The state television channel
announced a series of victories against the “terrorist” invaders. SANA
But video footage posted on YouTube on Sunday from the picturesque town told a different story: rebel fighters are shown walking through the streets of the village. A commander points out damage to the wall’s of the town’s ancient St Thecla monastery, which, he says, was caused by government tank fire.
Nestled deep in the mountains outside of
Maaloula was long known as a place for peaceful reflection. St Thecla, who is
supposedly buried in the convent, was a follower of Damascus St Paul
who fled to the village in
to avoid marriage, having taken an oath of chastity. It is said that the cleft
of rock in which the convent is placed opened up to allow her to escape her
This is one of only three places in the world where Western Aramaic, a dialect of the language spoken by Christ. It’s inhabitants are mostly Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christians have historically lived alongside a Sunni Muslim minority. Throughout the civil war, that has already claimed over 100,000 lives and torn apart the sectarian fabric of the country, Maaloula remained one of the last few places where Sunni Muslims and Christians could peacefully coexist.
Many of the rebels who stormed the town this week however, residents said, were overtly sectarian. The attack on Maaloula was a joint operation between moderate rebels from the Free Syrian Army, and Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist group aligned with al-Qaeda.
Rebels had initially tried to take the village last Wednesday, launching the operation by detonating a car bomb at the checkpoint to the entrance of the town. The army initially pushed back against the onslaught, but were eventually forced to flee the central part of the town.
Villagers told the Daily Telegraph that, having won control of much of the town, the rebel groups had turned on each other, with the hardline Jabhat al-Nusra, who believes in turning
into an Islamic emirate
seeking to force the more moderate FSA fighters from the are. Syria
Sister Antoinette said her brother in law had been “killed” by rebel fighters, and that his son has been kidnapped. Another resident in the village, speaking anonymously, told the Daily Telegraph that his neighbour was slaughtered in his home, and that rebels had tried to ’force a man to convert to Islam”.
Gregorious III, the Greek Catholic Patriarch in
denounced the attack: “Why do the
rebels make trouble in Maaloula, a peaceful town? Why create war where there
are churches and where the people are peaceful? Leave us alone!” Damascus
He added: “I hope your country can distinguish between the opposition and al-Qaeda bandits. The opposition are Syrian’s too, that is OK, push them to dialogue. But to let these extremists commit these tragedies in our country is deeply immoral. Why not put the same effort into creating a peace agreement, as you are in planning to bomb