Activists and residents say Syrian rebels have taken control of parts of an ancient Christian town in the rugged Qalamoun region near Damascus. . . .
The resident said hardline Islamic brigades first began attacking Syrian forces in the town three days ago. He said Maaloula residents fled to Damascus, fearing rebels would punish them for supporting the government of Bashar al-Assad and because they are Christians. The resident requested anonymity, fearing for his safety.
In previous battles, hardline rebels have desecrated churches but largely left Christians alone.Maaloula is one of three towns where Syrian Christians still speak Aramaic (Jesus’ mother tongue), and was nearly overrun by rebel units in September. The rebels were driven out by regime forces, but now more rebels — led, especially in the northern part of the country, by proudly Islamist groups — are mounting an offensive in the remote area. In the process, rebels apparently today kidnapped twelve Greek Orthodox nuns:
Islamist rebels have kidnapped a group of nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla (Mar Taqla) in Maaloula (north of Damascus). Mgr Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, confirmed the information after speaking with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate. Through the Vatican diplomat, the latter “calls on all Catholics to pray for the women religious.”Meanwhile, the U.N. reported on Friday that more than 1 million children have been made refugees from their own country by the war the Assad regime began, making it the worst new refugee crisis in more than two decades.
“Armed men burst in the monastery of St Thecla in Maaloula this afternoon. From there, they forcibly took 12 women religious,” Mgr Zenari said, citing a statement from Patriarchate. The group of Islamist rebels has apparently taken them to Yabrud, some 80 km north of the capital. Neither the nuncio nor the church Greek Orthodox Church know reason behind the kidnapping.