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Syria crisis: Fierce battle in Christian town Maaloula Christian pilgrims used to take this road into Maaloula. Now it’s an empty, lonely drive. The road has been fought over several times since armed rebels seized Maaloula last week. The civilians who lived here – half of them Christians and the rest Muslim – fled.

It was late afternoon since the morning, the Syrian army had been assaulting the town and had seized the main square. But the heavy gunfire showed that the rebels were still fighting back.

The commander, called Nidal, told me his men were pushing up towards a rebel strong point. Among the rebel militias that seized Maaloula last week was the Nusra Front; jihadists who are allied with Al-Qaeda.

Most of the Syrian troops trying to push them out were volunteers who have joined a territorial force called “National Defense.”

“Nusra are a terrorist group.” he said “They are destroying Syria and all the Syrian people are against them. They are destroying churches and mosques.”

Maaloula has some of the oldest Christian churches in the Middle East. Its people, now in Damascus, still speak Aramaic; the language they believe was spoken by Christ.

Most Christians and other minority sects in Syria support the regime or believe it’s a better option than jihadist rebels and foreign fighters.

“They’re still trying to flush out a sniper – who is at the top of the hill there. While I’ve been here I’ve been talking to some of the soldiers. A lot of them are local men – some of them Christians – who say that they are fighting for the town and for what it stood for. And as well as that, they are Bashar Al-Assad loyalists and they are fighting, they say, for him.”

Maaloula is treasured by every Christian in the Middle East, and the rebel advance here horrified them.

The Syrian army is well supplied with arms and ammunition by Russia and Iran. Fresh troops, including more volunteers from Christian areas and Damascus, got ready to go into action.

The men here said western countries opposed to the Assad regime were backing the wrong side and should help them to fight jihadist rebels.

He said “Tell the EU and the Americans that we sent them St. Paul 2000 years ago to take you from the darkness and you sent us terrorists to kill us!”

Wounded men were rushed back from the front line. This is the reality of the war in Syria. The outside world is arguing about chemical weapons but conventional weapons have killed more than 100,000 people on all sides of this civil war and kill more every day.

As we left Maaloula, Syrian Army jets were circling, looking for targets. Supporters of pro-western armed rebels thought a few days ago that the Americans might tilt the war their way by attacking the regime’s armed forces.

The fact that the world’s most powerful military might not now come after them, is very good news for the Syrian Army and its supporters. Jeremy Bowen, BBC News, Maaloula.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24057202

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