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Syrian rebels take control of Christian town Maaloula

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-03

Syrian rebels have once again taken control of parts of Maaloula, an ancient Christian town 60 kilometres from Damascus that lies close to key highways and smuggling routes, activists and residents said on Monday.

Activists and residents say Syrian rebels have again taken control of parts of Maaloula, an ancient Christian town near Damascus.

A spokesman for the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a local resident said on Monday that rebels were steadily seizing swathes of the town which they have occupied on previous occasions as fighting has ebbed and flowed in the rugged Qalamoun region near Damascus.

The Observatory obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

The resident said hardline Islamic brigades first began attacking Syrian forces in the town three days ago.

He said Maaloula residents fled to Damascus, fearing rebels would punish them for supporting the government of Bashar al-Assad and because they are Christians.

The resident requested anonymity, fearing for his safety.

Footage shot by the Associated Press on Monday showed smoke rising in the area, as well as a Syrian army tank on a nearby mountain road. Gunfire was also audible.

In previous battles, rebels have desecrated churches but largely left Christians alone, although the Vatican nuncio in Syria said the rebels kidnapped a group of nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla.

Maaloula lies on the edge of the central region of Qalamoun, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of the capital, and is located near a key highway connecting Damascus with Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.

Rebels and forces loyal to Assad are battling in the Qalamoun area over a strategic highway and smuggling routes from neighbouring Lebanon.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2013-12-03

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