Assad Troops Recapture Ancient Christian Town of Maaloula
April 14, 2014
By Gianluca Mezzofiore
Syrian troops loyal to president Bashar al-Assad have recaptured the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, according to military sources and state TV.
The military action follows seizure of the rebel-held Syrian border town of Rankous, in the strategically located Qalamoun region, which deprives the opposition their last major base in the area and cuts off a former supply line for weapons and fighters from neighbouring Lebanon.
Maaloula had earlier been overran by Islamist fighters, some belonging to the al-Qaida linked Al Nusra front, who also took 13 nuns captive from their convent. They were freed in a prisoner swap deal brokered by Qatar and Lebanon.
The picturesque town, just 5km from the main road connecting capital Damascus to the major flashpoint city of Homs, has changed hands at least four times in the past months.
State news agency SANA said that “units from the army and the armed forces” have restored “security and stability” in the town of Maaloula.
The recapture of Maaloula and the strategic road from Damascus to Homs will enable safe passage for hundreds of tonnes of chemical agents due to be taken out of the country and destroyed.
The military victory seems to confirm Assad’s recent statement that the Syrian civil war was at a “turning point” in his favour after three years of bitter battles that has left more than 150,000 people dead.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country,” state news agency SANA quoted the president as saying.
“The state is trying to restore security and stability in the main areas that the terrorists have struck,” said Assad, adding, “We will go after their positions and sleeper cells later.”
Assad troops are backed by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.
Maaloula is a historic town that attracted both Christian and Muslim pilgrims before the conflict.
Some of the residents of the town still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and the monastery of Mar Thecla is internationally-renowned for its alleged miracle cures.