Al-Qaeda-linked rebel forces withdraw from Syrian Christian village

( Reports indicate that Al-Qaeda-linked rebel forces have withdrawn from the Syrian Christian village of Maaloula after heavy fighting that saw many Christian residents come under attack and flee.

The Syrian Christian village of Maaloula, where Al-Qaeda forces have reportedly withdrawn. Credit: Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

Maaloula, located 56 kilometers from Damascus, is an ancient Christian town where many of the residents still speak Aramaic, the same language spoken by Jesus. The village has also played an important role in early Christianity. According to legend, Taqla, an early Christian saint and pupil of St. Paul, was being pursued by Roman soldiers when she came upon a mountain, and after praying, she was able to escape. Today, the village is home to numerous Christian churches and monasteries, including one named after Taqla.

The assault on Maaloula began Sept. 4 when a Jordanian suicide bomber from Jabhat Al-Nusra attacked a Syrian Army checkpoint outside the town and then stormed the town’s square, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Syrian Army and popular defense committees then launched a counter-attack that lasted several days.

Videos posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed heavy fighting in Maaloula between the Jabhat Al-Nusra rebel terrorists and the armed popular committees on Sept. 6.

Christian residents in Maaloula reported that the rebels attacked Christian homes and churches, threatening them with beheadings if they didn’t convert to Islam, the Associated Press reported.

These “popular defense committees” are militias that are armed and trained by the Syrian government to supplement the Syrian army and protect their own neighborhoods or villages from attacks by rebels. Many of these militias are comprised of Syrian minority groups such as the Christians, Druze, and Alawites.

According to AFP, Syrian rebel fighters announced Sept. 10 that they withdrew from the village. Despite the withdrawal, many of the town’s roughly 3,000 residents have fled.  Overall, more than 450,000 Christians have fled since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in early 2011.

“If Maaloula survives, it will be a miracle,” Mother Pelagia Sayaf, who runs the ancient Mar Taqla Monastery, told the New York Times. “Maaloula is empty. You see ghosts on the walls.”

Syrian Christians are faced with a difficult situation due to their country’s civil war. Many Christians support President Bashar al-Assad out of fear that if he is overthrown and replaced by Islamists, they will face greater persecution, especially from al-Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim rebel groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, who have attacked Christians. At the same time, Assad and his government are supported by Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah, and have used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.

Posted on September 10, 2013 .