Syrian opposition fighters ‘seize’ town north of Damascus

Published: Updated:

Syrian rebels have taken control of the historic Christian town of Maalula, north of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog and residents said on Sunday.

“Overnight, Syrian regime troops moved into the village, but rebel forces sent reinforcements and were able to take control of the entire town,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

A resident of the town, reached by phone, also confirmed that regime forces had withdrawn from the area and rebel forces were in control of Maalula.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the resident said the situation on the ground was now quiet.

“The rebels are inside Maalula, all of Maalula. The government troops have pulled out of Maalula,” the resident said.

Abdel Rahman said “fierce fighting broke out between regime forces and rebel fighters overnight, and the soldiers withdrew to the outskirts of the town.”

Militants of the jihadist group Al-Nusra Front had entered the town, he said.

Maalula is considered a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria, and many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ that only small, scattered communities around the world still use.

Overnight battles left at least 17 rebels dead and more than 100 wounded, the Observatory said, adding that dozens of regime forces and pro-militia members were also killed or wounded in the fighting.