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FORCED TO CONVERT: Syrian Christians forced to convert to Islam in isolated town

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Christians in the remote mountain village of Maaloula say that Syrian rebel forces have ordered them to convert to Islam under pain of death. This edict is coming from people that the United States is ostensibly going to strike Syria for. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Fighters that have been linked to Al Qaeda took control of the Christian village of Maaloula after fighting with regime forces. Fears have been reignited about western support for the rebel groups, which strongly infiltrated by Islamic extremists.

The rebels, many of who sport beards, shouting the phrase  "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village, saying that they had "liberated" the residents from government forces. 

"They shot and killed people," one Maaloula resident says. "I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village. Where is President Obama to see what has befallen us?"

"I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, "either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded,'" another Christian resident said.

Another said one church had been torched while other gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them.

Located 25 miles from Damascus, Maaloula is one of the few places in the world where residents still use the ancient language of Aramaic, which was spoken by Jesus and his disciples.

While the village has largely escaped the turmoil of this Middle Eastern country's civil war, Maaloula has become a key strategic battleground in the Syrian civil war because of its proximity to the capital. Formerly held by President Assad's regime, the village was captured in a rebel advance spearheaded by the hard-line Islamist al Nusra Front.

Villagers said they heard several foreign accents among the rebels, with many feared to be Al Qaeda fighters imported into the conflict. A villager said he heard lots of Tunisian, Libyan, Moroccan and Chechen dialects.

In a video posted online, a rebel commander shouted at the camera: "We cleansed Maaloula from all the Assad dogs and all his thugs." In the meantime, Syria's state news agency claimed the rebels had withdrawn and the regime had regained the village, saying: "The army inflicted heavy losses in the ranks of the terrorists."

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