AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Syrian activists say rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters have gained control of the Christian village of Maaloula northeast of the capital Damascus.
The rebel advance into the area this week was reportedly spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities in particular about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 file photo, thousands of Syrians, most of them Christians, celebrate the Christian Day of the Cross, by setting a fire on top of a mountain in the village of Maaloula, north of Damascus. Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day Thursday, as world leaders gathered in Russia for an economic summit expected to be overshadowed by the prospect of U.S.-led strikes against the Damascus regime. (AP)
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Nusra Front backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes with the army late Saturday.
"The army pulled back to the outskirts of the village and both (rebel groups) are in total control of Maaloula now," he told The Associated Press Sunday.
He said pro-government fighters remain inside the village, in hiding.