The Syrian army has sent reinforcements to the western Christian village of Ma ' loula, where government forces have been battling foreign - backed militants for the past three days.
Members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front attacked Ma'loula on Wednesday and briefly entered the village a day after. But they were forced to pull out hours later following heavy clashes with Syrian troops. It is the first time that militants attack Ma'loula, which is located about 70 kilometers northeast of Damascus. The arrival of militants forced the residents to flee the village. Over 100 people have also taken refuge in the convents. Residents said the militants seized the mountaintop Safir Hotel and fired in the direction of the community below during the hours-long capture. Ma'loula is still under control of government, and extra forces sent to the area have taken up positions outside the village. The historic village, which is on a UNESCO list of world heritage sites, is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria: Mar Sarkis and Mar Takla. Some villagers there still speak a version of Aramaic, an ancient language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.