SANCTUARY NO MORE: Clashes between regime and rebel forces continued at approaches to the Christian-majority town of Maalula, nestled in the hills about fifty-five kilometers north of Damascus after an informal agreement to keep the historic town outside the conflict was shattered Thursday when a Jordanian suicide bomber attacked a government checkpoint killing himself and up to two hundred Assad troops.
Although Al-Manar Television quoted Syrian Army sources Sunday boasting of a successful campaign against “armed groups” in Maalula, the Free Syrian Army’s Ahfad Al Rasoul Brigade posted a report on Facebook claiming to have effectively secured the town’s perimeter.
“The [regime] army relocated at road blocks but distributed its snipers to target anything that moves so we plead the families of Maalula not to go toward the road blocks because Assad’s snipers don’t differentiate between civilian and military personnel,” warns the Ahfadd Al Rasoul Brigade posting.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces bombarded the hill where the town’s four star Safir Hotel is situated along with other rebel positions in the city.
“All the Christians are collaborating with the FSA and are against the entrance of regime forces to Maalula,” said Ameer al-Qalamouni speaking from the nearby town of Al-Nabak.
“The regime tried to sew division between the Sunnis and Christians but the people of Maalula are wiser than this, “said the 22 year old spokesman for the area’s Local Coordination Council.
“Our fighters dragged the regime’s forces to Faj Maalula [Valley] to make sure that the historical village would not be targeted,” insisted the pro-rebel media official.
The “martyrdom” mission by Abu Mossa’ab al-Ordoni [Jordanian] at the outskirts of the city on Thursday in which rebels claim resulted in as many as two hundred regime fatalities led both sides to enter Maalula proper.
Even al-Qalamouni concedes that the townspeople were dragged into a conflict they had previously avoided.
“The regime forces started firing in the village from the first day of the incident without any care for the sacred buildings and took advantage of the FSA withdrawal to redistribute their forces inside,” he said via Skype.
A video released by rebel forces Sunday shows a fighter in front of a local church giving instructions for fellow fighters to respect the religion and secure the safety of the local townspeople.
Bilajea Saeaf, director of the Maalula ‘s Saint Tekla Convent told Beirut’s LBC TV that the facility has been unscathed in the fighting.
“No one came near us, and no fire happened, nor they assaulted the nuns,” said Saeaf.Video Courtesy of Abdoobnews and LBC group