Rebel fighters in Syria have taken control of a historic Christian town that is about an hour’s drive from Damascus. An al Qaeda-linked rebel group seized Maaloula from regime forces on Saturday night. YouTube accounts of the takeover started hitting the Internet over the weekend.
“We cleansed Maaloula from all the Assad dogs and all his thugs,” a rebel commander shouts at the camera in a video that was posted online.
“The army pulled back to the outskirts of the village and both [rebel groups] are in total control of Maaloula now,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It is unclear what the Islamist rebels plan to do with the town’s Christian residents. During the Iraq war, militants targeted Christians and caused many of them to leave the country, CNN reported. It has also been reported that Syria’s 2 million Christians are often targeted because it is believed that they sympathize with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Antoinette Nassrallah is a Christian owner of a cafe in Maaloula. She talked about rumors of Christians being targeted by radical Muslims during an interview last year. “For now in our area here it’s fine,” she said. “But what I heard, in Aleppo, they are killing, destroying many of churches — very, very old churches.”
Members of the clergy in Syria hope that the situation does not lead to Christians fleeing the country. “I beg you to remain here,” said Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham. “We’re staying. If you leave, we leave. So we beg you, stop coming to our priests asking for a visa. If you leave, who will remain? Only our brethren the Muslims.”
A video about the situation is below: