Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spent Easter Sunday in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, which his troops recently recaptured from rebels, state television said.
“On the day of the resurrection of Christ, and from the heart of Maaloula, President Assad hopes all Syrians have a happy Easter, and for the reestablishment of peace and security throughout Syria,” the channel announced in a caption at the bottom of the screen, without showing images of the visit.
It added that Assad had inspected the Mar Sarkis (Saint Sergius and Bacchus) monastery, damaged in recent fighting. It said the damage had been caused by “terrorists,” using the regime’s term for rebels.
Located north of Damascus, Maaloula is one of the world’s oldest Christian settlements, and its inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ.
Backed by Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, Syria’s army took control of Maaloula last Monday.
Rebels and their jihadist ally Al-Nusra Front had taken control of Maaloula in early December. They kidnapped 13 nuns and traded them for women prisoners held in regime jails in March.
Syrian Christians call for peace
Syria’s large Christian minority has sought neutrality throughout the three-year war, and has viewed the Sunni-led rebels with growing concern as jihadists have flocked to their ranks.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Syria said on Easter Sunday that Christians in the war-ravaged country “will not submit and yield” to extremists who attack “our people and holy places.”
In comments to mark Easter, Patriarch John Yazigi called on the warring sides to end the practice of “intimidation, displacement, extremism and takfiri mentality,” a term for Islamic extremists. Such radicals have become increasingly influential among rebels, attacking Christians who they see as infidels and partly as punishment for what they consider to be Christian support for Assad and his regime.
Yazigi’s message was carried by Syria’s official news agency late Saturday.
Christians make up about ten percent of Syria’s population. Assad’s forces and rebels trying to overthrow him are locked in a civil war in which more than 150,000 people have been killed.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-20