Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Virunga Park chief shot

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Algerian election: Bouteflika votes in wheelchair

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Algeria's media: a mixture of censorship and free speech

Read more

DEBATE

Algeria: What's the Choice? Incumbent Bouteflika Votes in Wheelchair

Read more

WEB NEWS

Nigerian web users call for end to violence

Read more

FOCUS

Bitcoin in the US: A monetary revolution?

Read more

ENCORE!

Fast cars and slow trains

Read more

WEB NEWS

Chile: online mobilization to help Valparaiso fire victims

Read more

FACE-OFF

François Hollande: France's most unpopular president

Read more

  • Nobel-winning Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at 87

    Read more

  • Low turnout in Algerian election tipped to return Bouteflika

    Read more

  • With a strong French presence, veterans and fresh faces, Cannes aims to please

    Read more

  • Astronomers discover Earth-like planet that could support life

    Read more

  • Hundreds still trapped in sunken South Korea ferry

    Read more

  • Russia and West agree on steps to ease Ukraine crisis

    Read more

  • Deadly attack on civilians sheltering in UN base in South Sudan

    Read more

  • Eurostar train delay "chaos"

    Read more

  • Chelsea Clinton announces she's pregnant

    Read more

  • French troops free five aid workers kidnapped in Mali by Islamists

    Read more

  • In pictures: Iranian woman pardons son’s killer at the gallows

    Read more

  • After cup defeat, Spanish pundits read last rites for Barcelona

    Read more

  • India heads to polls in single largest day of voting

    Read more

  • Ukraine talks open in Geneva as Putin talks tough on TV

    Read more

  • Pro-Russian separatists killed in attack on Black Sea base

    Read more

  • Man executed in Texas for 2002 triple murder

    Read more

  • Scandal-hit French doctor Jacques Servier dies at 92

    Read more

  • Belgian head of wildlife reserve shot in DR Congo

    Read more

  • Crunch talks on Ukraine begin in Geneva

    Read more

  • Stagehand of God? Maradona's legendary goal inspires a play

    Read more

  • US rolls out red carpet for French critic of capitalism

    Read more

  • N. Korea not amused by London hair salon's Kim Jong-un ad

    Read more

  • Real Madrid beat old foes Barcelona to lift Copa del Rey

    Read more

  • France's new PM targets welfare in drive to cut spending

    Read more

  • Campaigning against Bouteflika's re-election... in France

    Read more

Middle east

Syrian rebels to retreat from Christian town of Maaloula

© Photo: AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2013-09-11

Syrian rebel factions said Tuesday that they would withdraw from Maaloula, just days after seizing control. A rebel coalition spokesman said the move was conditional on the Syrian army also agreeing not to enter the historic Christian town.

Syria's anti-regime rebel fighters announced Tuesday that they would withdraw from Maaloula near Damascus, days after they took control of the historic Christian town.

"To ensure no blood is spilt and that the properties of the people of Maaloula are kept safe, the Free Syrian Army announces that the town of Maaloula will be kept out of the struggle between the FSA and the regime army," a rebel spokesman said in a video posted online.

The spokesman for the Qalamun Liberation Front, which groups several anti-regime forces of the Qalamun area near Damascus, said the withdrawal was "conditional" on the Syrian army also agreeing not to enter the town.

"The army and its shabiha (militias) must not enter into the town," said the unnamed spokesman.

A Syrian security source told AFP on Wednesday that the rebels had not yet withdrawn and that the army was looking to rout them.

"The army has not yet retaken Maalula," he said, on condition of anonymity. "The battles are raging on, but [the army] is making progress."

Maaloula, home to about 5,000 people, is strategically important for rebels, who are trying to tighten their grip on the area around Damascus and already have bases all around the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and residents said on Sunday that rebel forces, including al-Nusra jihadists linked to al Qaeda, had overrun Maaloula in the preceding days.

The Britain-based Observatory said the al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was among the forces that had taken control of the town.

Fighters affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army had also reportedly entered Maaloula.

Forced to convert

"They arrived in our town at dawn on Wednesday and shouted 'We are from the al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders," a term for Christians used by Islamists, said a frightened woman who identified herself as Marie.

She spoke to AFP in Damascus, where she was attending the burial of three Christians from Maaloula killed in last week's fighting. The jihadists forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another, residents said Tuesday.

A spokesman for a key rebel battalion involved in the takeover said the decision to withdraw applies to all opposition fighters, including the jihadist al-Nusra Front.

"Some Al-Nusra fighters were involved in the battle, but for the most part they were Syrians, not foreign (jihadists). The decision to withdraw applies to all fighters, and doesn't exclude al-Nusra," spokesman Ibrahim al-Idelbi of Ahfad al-Rasul told AFP.

Idelbi accused the Syrian army of bombing the town after opposition fighters entered it in order to try to discredit the rebels.

"The regime wants to portray us as extremists, but we would not target any sacred places," Idelbi said.

Amateur video distributed by activists showed damage to the facade of a convent in Maaloula, while the unidentified cameraman says the regime used "tank and rocket fire" to target the building.

"We have withdrawn from Maaloula because we want to show that our goal is not to destroy but to liberate," Idelbi said. "We will stay on the edges of Maaloula, but residents who have left the town can, of course, return safely."

Civilians started fleeing the town nearly a week ago, fearing an imminent escalation.

Picturesque Maaloula, nestled under a large cliff, is considered a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria.

Many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ and which is only used by small, scattered communities around the world.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-09-11

  • SYRIA

    Christian village becomes a battleground in Syrian war

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    Fighting rocks historic Syrian Christian village

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    Catholics gather at Vatican to oppose Syria intervention

    Read more

Comments

COMMENT(S)