Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels took over a Christian village near Damascus last week, and forced at least one person at gunpoint to convert to Islam. Another man was executed after refusing to convert.
Said one woman, named Marie, “They arrived in our town at dawn on Wednesday and shouted ‘We are from the Al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders.’”
The conflict began when an al-Nusra fighter blew himself up at a checkpoint just outside the town of Maaloula. Rebels soon took over the area, disabling two tanks, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
One witness reported 1,500 rebels inside the village as the Syrian army surrounded the area to regain control.
Maaloula is an ancient village that houses two of the oldest monasteries in the country. The actions of the rebels call into question whether they would be a suitable alternative to President Assad, whom they are attempting to overthrow. Even as the Maaloula battle took place, the United States was discussing helping the rebels overthrow the current regime.
The most recent report from the Agence France-Presse, delivered Tuesday night, said “the Free Syrian Army said rebels had withdrawn from Maaloula to spare its people and heritage, but only on the condition that the regime kept its forces out as well.”
The Syrian government’s own news agency reported, "The army continued its military operation against terrorist elements in Maaloula village and its vicinity, inflicting a heavy casualty in the ranks of the terrorists, including their leaders."
But even after the state spread news of safety in the village, residents reported conflicts in the streets and fled for their lives.
Said on resident, “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. So many people fled the village for safety."
He then described the village as a “ghost town.”