December 12, 2013
Clashes renewed near Syrian capital over historic Christian town
Syrian government forces launched an offensive to wrest back control of an historic Christian town north of Damascus today, activists said.
In the past six days, the town of Maaloula has already changed hands three times between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebel groups, some of which are linked to al Qaeda.
Combatants say the intensity of fighting over the town is due to its strategic location near the road leading from Damascus to the central city of Homs.
But fighting in an area with such religious symbolism could increase anxieties among the Christian minority, who have watched sectarian violence between majority Sunni Muslims and the Alawite minority overshadow the revolt against Assad's rule.
The fighting near Maaloula, in the Qalamoun mountains north of the capital, threatens ancient Christian sites nestled in the hillsides that were a site of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike.
The Britain-based Observatory, which opposes Assad, said that troops and militia loyal to the president re-entered Maaloula early Saturday but withdrew in the evening when rebels brought in reinforcements.