Hmmm?

Syrian village ‘liberated’ by rebels… who then forced Christians to convert to Islam

  • Syrian rebels including al-Qaida-linked  fighters have gained control of a Christian village north-east of the capital  Damascus
  • Government media has provided a different  account suggesting regime forces are winning
  • The battle is taking place in Maaloula, a  scenic mountain village where people still speak the ancient Middle Eastern  language of Aramaic

By  Tara Brady

PUBLISHED: 14:27 EST, 8  September 2013 |  UPDATED: 15:02 EST, 8 September 2013

Syrian rebels including al-Qaida-linked  fighters have gained control of a Christian village north-east of the capital  Damascus, it has been claimed today.

However, government media has provided a  dramatically different account of the battle suggesting regime forces are  winning.

It has been impossible to independently  verify reports from Maaloula, a scenic mountain community known for being one of  the few places in the world where people still speak the ancient Middle Eastern  language of Aramaic.

A Syrian military solider fires a heavy machine gun during clashes with rebels in Maaloula 

A Syrian military solider fires a heavy machine gun  during clashes with rebels in Maaloula

 

The village is on a UNESCO list of tentative  world heritage sites.

The rebel advance into the area this week was  spearheaded by Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among  Syrians and religious minorities about the role played by Islamic extremists  within the rebel ranks.

It was not immediately clear why the army  couldn’t sufficiently reinforce its troops to prevent the rebel advance in the  area which is 25 miles from Damascus.

Some activists say that Assad’s forces are  stretched thin, fighting in other areas in the north and south of the country.

Government media has provided a different account of the battle suggesting regime forces are winning 

Government media has provided a different account of the  battle suggesting regime forces are winning

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who runs the UK-based  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Jabhat al-Nusra backed by another  group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes  with the army late on Saturday. He said around 1,500 rebels are inside the  town.

‘The army pulled back to the outskirts of the  village and both (rebel groups) are in total control of Maaloula now,’ said  Abdul-Rahman.

He said pro-government fighters remain inside  the village, in hiding.

Initially, troops loyal to President Bashar  Assad moved into Maaloula early Saturday, he said, ‘but they left when rebels  started pouring into the village.’

Now, Abdul-Rahman said the army is  surrounding the village and controlling its entrances and exits.

A general view of Maaloula, northeast of the capital Damascus. Rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters are believed to have gained control of the village  

A general view of Maaloula, northeast of the capital  Damascus. Rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters are believed to have gained  control of the village

 

A Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of  them sporting beards and shouting God is great, attacked Christian homes and  churches shortly after moving into the village overnight.

‘They shot and killed people. I heard  gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old  quarters of the village,’ said the resident, reached by telephone from  neighboring Jordan.

‘So many people fled the village for  safety.’

Now, Maaloula ‘is a ghost town. Where is  President Obama to see what befallen on us?’ asked the man.

Another resident who fled the village of  3,000 inhabitants earlier in the day said in a telephone interview that Assad’s  forces deployed on the outskirts of the village, while gunmen inside refused to  allow anybody in.

He said the gunmen declined to allow fleeing  people to take five dead bodies out of the village with them.

Syrian government forces stand guard in Maaloula village, a scenic mountain village where people still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic 

Syrian government forces stand guard in Maaloula  village, a scenic mountain village where people still speak the ancient Middle  Eastern language of Aramaic

 

He said one of the churches, called Demyanos,  had been torched and that gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed  them.

Most of the gunmen are foreigners, he said,  adding that he heard different dialects, mainly of Tunisians, Libyans, Moroccans  and Chechens.

Another resident, a Christian man, said he  saw militants forcing some Christian residents to convert to  Islam.

‘I saw the militants grabbing five villagers  Wednesday and threatening them (saying): `”Either you convert to Islam, or you  will be beheaded,”‘ he said.

The two other residents said they heard about  the conversions but did not see them.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity out  of fears of retaliation.

Historic: A church in Maaloula which is on a UNESCO list of tentative world heritage sites 

Historic: A church in Maaloula which is on a UNESCO list  of tentative world heritage sites

 

A Christian woman who spoke to the Associated  Press on Thursday also said there were reports that militants threatened  villagers with death if they did not convert.

Syria’s state SANA news agency said the army  reported ‘progress’ in its offensive against the rebels in  Maaloula.

‘The army inflicted heavy losses in the ranks  of the terrorists,’ it said, using a government term to describe the  rebels.

‘Military operations are continuing in the  vicinity of Maaloula and its entrances,’ SANA said.

State-run TV reported that all churches in  Maaloula were now safe and the army was chasing gunmen in the western hills.

State-run TV reported that all churches in Maaloula were now safe and the army was chasing gunmen in the western hills 

State-run TV reported that all churches in Maaloula were  now safe and the army was chasing gunmen in the western hills

 

The development came as President Barack  Obama’s administration pressed ahead with efforts to win congressional backing  and international support for military strikes against Syria over an alleged  chemical attack in August outside Damascus.

The U.S. says Assad’s forces fired rockets  loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near the capital before  dawn on August 21, killing at least 1,429 people.

A Christian woman who spoke to the Associated Press on Thursday also said there were reports that militants threatened villagers with death if they did not convert to Christianity  

A Christian woman who spoke to the Associated Press on  Thursday also said there were reports that militants threatened villagers with  death if they did not convert to Christianity

 

A church in Maaloula where fighting has been taking place overnight. A poster with the portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen bottom right 

A church in Maaloula where fighting has been taking  place overnight. A poster with the portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad is  seen bottom right

 

Back in Washington after a trip to Europe  that included a two-day visit to Russia to attend a Group of 20 summit, Obama  will intensify his efforts to sell a skeptical Congress and a war-weary American  public on a military strike against Syria.

A debate is underway in Congress and the  administration’s lobbying campaign culminates Tuesday, as Obama gives an Oval  Office speech the evening before a critical vote on possible action in  Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told  France 3 TV: ‘No one is for war’.

‘The question we ask is if we want to get to  a political resolution, will Bashar Assad accept if nothing is done? My opinion  is no. There has to be a firm response to push toward a political  negotiation.’

Fabius said that a military intervention  didn’t require every country to be behind it. He said: ‘We must be vigilant  against barbarity.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415586/Syrian-rebels-attack-historic-Christian-village-residents-speak-language-Jesus.html#ixzz2eLL9Sdhd Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

1 reply »