Al Qaeda fighters seize strategic Christian town near Damascus
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by Shaam News Network on September 4, 2013 allegedly shows a rebel fighter firing a heavy machine gun during a battle in Maaloula. (AFP)
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Syrian activists report that on Monday the Syrian army attacked rebel outposts in the hills overlooking a rebel-stronghold Christian-majority village near Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press that fighters from the Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra front (or Jabhat Al Nusra) and the Qalamon Liberation Front are still in control of Maaloula, an ancient Christian villiage home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, reported that Syrian army troops attacked the hills around Maaloula early Monday under the cover of heavy shelling, AP reported.
Early on Saturday, rebels captured Maaloula, which lies 56km northeast of Damascus. The fierce battle has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria's religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in Syria's civil war, according to AP.