Foreign - backed al - Qaeda - linked terrorists fighting the Syrian government of Bashar al - Assad have gained control over the Christian village of Maalula, reports say.
According to the so-called Syrian Observatory as well as the residents of the historic town located some 70 kilometers northeast of the capital, Damascus, the militants are currently in control of the entire village. The British-based group said the militants have sent reinforcement to the area, forcing Syrian Army to leave the mountain village. "The rebels are inside Maalula, all of Maalula. The government troops have pulled out of Maalula," a resident said on condition of anonymity. The reports come after days of clashes between Syrian army forces and militants mostly from the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front in the Christian village. Many of the town’s 5,000 Aramaic-speaking residents have fled their homes since the militants, known for killing minorities, arrived in the area. Maalula is of strategic significance to the foreign-backed militants who have been trying to gain control of key areas surrounding Damascus. The Al-Nusra Front militants attacked the village on September 4, seizing a hotel and shelling one of its communities. The recent war rhetoric against Syria first gained momentum on August 21, when the militants operating inside the country and its foreign-backed opposition claimed that over a thousand people had been killed in a government chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Damascus categorically rejected the accusation, but a number of Western countries, including the US, France, and the UK, quickly started campaigning for war. Since then, media outlets have reported US plans for likely surgical attacks, which would be in the form of “cruise-missile strikes,” and “could rely on … US destroyers in the Mediterranean.”