Historic Christian town of Maaloula seized by Islamist rebels in Syria
What seizure bodes for Christian residents remains uncertain
It's time to make room in our prayers for the Christian residents of Maaloula in Syria: Islamist rebels of the al-Nusra Front have seized control of the town this weekend. The al Qaeda-linked rebel group has reportedly seized control of the historic Christian town of Maaloula from regime forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the recent videos posted on YouTube showed fighting between rebels and government forces in the remote town, which is an hour's drive from the capital Damascus. What the capture will mean for the Christian residents there remains to be seen.
Maaloula, Syria: view of the St. Thecla monastery from the top of the rock.
The government and the opposition welcome and need Christian support, as the 18-month-long Syrian conflict continues to roil. Some Christians fear radical Islamists have been swelling rebel ranks.
Christians make up roughly 10 percent of the population. Syria is ruled by a government dominated by Alawites, whose faith is an offshoot of Shiism.
Aid agencies say Syria's two million Christians are frequently targeted for suspected sympathies to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Two top bishops have been kidnapped and a well-known priest remains missing.
Maaloula, St. Takla Convent, Syria
"For now in our area here it's fine," Antoinette Nassrallah, the Christian owner of a cafe in Maaloula said last year. "But what I heard, in Aleppo, they are killing, destroying many of churches -- very, very old churches."
Many of Syria's Christians have fled to Lebanon where they shelter in monasteries. The faithful have joined in prayers for peace promoted by Pope Francis in Rome.
The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on leaders of al-Nusra last year while the State Department blacklisted it as a foreign terror organization linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Maaloula, which derives from the Aramaic ma'la, meaning 'high place' - which at over 4,500 ft.
The al-Nusra Front has emerged as one of the most effective groups in the Syrian resistance. They have enlisted foreign fighters with combat experience in Iraq and elsewhere. Washington has accused the group of using the Syrian conflict to advance its own ideology and ends.
Elsewhere in Syria, Russia sent a plane to pick up its citizens from the war-torn Middle East nation, state media reported Sunday.
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