Prayer zone for a better, empowering, inspiring, promoting, prospering, progressing and more successful life through Christ Jesus

Posts tagged ‘Maaloula’

Syrian Patriarch Urges Release of Abducted Nuns.


DAMASCUS, Syria — A Syrian mother superior on Tuesday accused opposition fighters of abducting 12 nuns from a predominantly Christian village near the capital that was overrun by rebels, and Syria’s Greek Orthodox patriarch appealed for their quick release.

Febronia Nabhan, head of nearby Saidnaya Convent, said the nuns and three other women were taken the day before from the village of Maaloula to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud, which also has a large Christian population.

Meanwhile, Syria’s state TV reported that a suicide attacker blew himself up in central Damascus, killing four and wounding 17 others. The TV gave no further details about the blast in the central Jisr Abyad neighborhood and did not say what the target was.

Such blasts in Damascus are not uncommon and have killed scores of people in the city.

While two bishops and a priest have previously been kidnapped by rebels, no nuns have been reported harmed in the three-year conflict, which began as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad but later deteriorated into a civil war.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi called for the release of the Maaloula nuns. “We appeal to the seed of conscience that God planted in all humans, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters safely,” Yazigi said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“We call upon the international community and world governments to (help secure the) release the nuns of Mar Takla Convent and the orphans who are being held since yesterday,” he added. The statement did not say how many nuns were abducted.

Nabhan told The Associated Press that the Maaloula convent’s mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her late Monday from Yabroud and said they were all “fine and safe.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said that “the fate of nuns at the Mar Takla Convent in Maaloula is unknown.” It added there were conflicting reports on whether they were taken to a nearby area or not.

The Observatory says it received information late Monday saying that the nuns “are still alive.” It gave no further details.

Syrian rebels captured large parts of Maaloula, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of the capital, on Monday after three days of fighting. Activists say the rebels who stormed the town included members of the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front.

Syria’s minorities, including Christians, have mostly sided with President Bashar Assad or remained neutral, fearing for their fate if the rebels, in whose ranks Islamic extremists are increasingly prominent, come to power. Christians have accused radicals among the rebels of abusing residents and vandalizing churches after taking Christian towns.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry urged the international community to condemn the rebel attack on Maaloula. In two letters sent to the heads of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General late Monday, the ministry said: “Syria is facing a barbarian war launched by extremist … gangs targeting its present and future.”

It said “terrorists” broke into Mar Takla Convent and held Sayyaf and a number of nuns “as hostages and sabotaged churches and houses.”

The ministry urged the U.N. Security Council to condemn these terrorist acts in “the strongest terms” and exert pressure on the countries which are supporting these groups to stop providing them with logistical and financial support.

The state news agency SANA had reported Monday that six nuns, including Sayaf, were trapped in a convent in Maaloula.

In September, rebels seized parts of Maaloula only to be driven out within a few days by government forces.

The town was a major tourist attraction before the conflict began in March 2011. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, a biblical language spoken by Jesus.

Also in Syria, troops continued their advance in the western town of Nabek after they captured most of it Monday and reopened the highway linking Damascus with the central city of Homs.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said that although the road was opened it is still dangerous because of fighting in nearby areas.

The highway is a key road leading to Syria’s coast and could open the way for transporting the country’s chemical weapons to be sent to the port of Latakia before they are taken out of the country for destruction.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is aiming to destroy Syria’s entire chemical weapons program by mid-2014.

Across the border in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Lebanese troops began deploying in areas between pro and anti-Assad groups after four days of fighting that left a dozen people dead and more than 100 wounded.

The Tuesday deployment came a day after the government authorized the army to take charge of security in Lebanon’s second-largest city for six months.

The army said in a statement that 21 people from both sides have been detained.

In the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, near the southern city of Sidon, a bomb exploded killing one person and wounding three including Mohammed Eissa, better known as Lino, a former senior official with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group, NNA and officials in the camp said.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Islamist Fighters Move Nuns From Captured Christian Village in Syria.


Syrian nuns
Nuns attend a mass prayer at the Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, Dec. 10, 2012. (Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri )

Islamist fighters who captured a Christian village north of Damascus have moved some nuns to a nearby town but it was not clear if they had been kidnapped or evacuated for their safety, the Vatican’s ambassador to Syria said on Tuesday.

The militants took the ancient quarter of Maaloula on Monday after heavy fighting with President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces, activists said. Syrian state media said they were holding the nuns captive in the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla.

Vatican envoy Mario Zenari said the 12 nuns had been taken from Maaloula to Yabroud, about 20 km (13 miles) to the north.

Zenari said the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate had told him armed men had entered the monastery on Monday afternoon.

“They forced the sisters to evacuate and to follow them towards Yabroud. At this moment we cannot say if this is a kidnapping or an evacuation,” he told Reuters by telephone from Damascus. “I heard now there is a very fierce conflict going on in Maaloula.”

The fighting, which pits al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighters and other rebels against Assad’s forces, is part of a wider struggle for control of the Damascus-Homs highway in central Syria.

An official at the Greek Patriarchate confirmed that he believed the nuns were taken to Yabroud, but gave no details.

Syrian state television said Christians had held a service in Damascus on Monday to protest against the capture of the nuns and the kidnapping of two bishops near Aleppo in April.

Pro-rebel activists said the nuns were safe and that the real threat to them came from what they described as random Syrian army bombardment of Maaloula.

The village was the scene of heavy fighting in September, when it changed hands four times in a series of attacks and counter-assaults by rebels and government forces.

Zenari said the nuns were among the last residents left in Maaloula after most fled south for relative safety in Damascus.

The army, backed by pro-Assad militias, has been trying to secure towns on the road from Damascus to the city of Homs and Assad’s Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean.

Control of the road would help secure Assad’s grip over central Syria, and would also enable safe passage for hundreds of tonnes of chemical agents which are due to be shipped out of the country by the end of the year for destruction.


Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alistair Lyon

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

Could Syrian Christians Get Pulled Into Civil War


Syria civil war
Syria has been torn apart by a conflict lasting more than two years (flickr.com/freedomhouse)

A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.

The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.

But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.

“The Christians now live in a terror,” said Hussam, a Christian from the nearby town of Saidnaya, who asked not to be identified because he feared for the safety of his family if he was to talk openly.

In the latest major attack on a Christian district, rebels fighting alongside members of the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra stormed a government checkpoint at the entrance to the town Sept. 4. The rebel aim was to seize control of a portion of the Damascus-Homs highway, a main route from the capital of Damascus.

The highway is a key supply line for whoever can hold it.

Fearful that the town would be destroyed, hundreds of Christian men from Saidnaya just outside Damascus and elsewhere joined Assad’s troops to oust the rebels.

Residents told news media outlets that when rebels entered Maaloula they destroyed precious censors, or incense holders, and Bibles from several churches. Some accused rebels of shelling churches and homes in the town. Others dispute those accounts.

Syrian rebel groups say the Syrian military carried out the shelling of the town and is blaming rebels to stir up trouble.

The small homes of Maaloula wind up a rugged mountain, and once on top one can see a green expanse below of fig trees and vineyards. The town is home to mainly Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics and Muslims.

One of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria is here. Called Mar Sarkis, it is the Arabic name for St. Sergius, a Roman soldier executed for his Christian beliefs.

Christians have lived here for centuries. They have largely supported Assad’s regime but are increasingly pawns in the propaganda war between the rebels and the regime.

The Syrian government has gone to great lengths to present itself as the sole protector of Christians and other religious minorities, saying it is locked in a battle with terrorists and foreign jihadists bent on destroying the country’s secular fabric.

Sama TV, a pro-Assad television station, reported that three Christians were killed by “terrorists” during clashes in Maaloula this month. Its footage—impossible to verify— showed hundreds of angry mourners at a church in Damascus chanting support for Assad.

Christians hold important roles in Syria’s military. And the Assad regime today is heavily dependent on the National Defense Forces—groups of local militias armed by the government—to keep rebels from entering strategic towns and districts around the country.

Towns such as Saidnaya to the north of Damascus and a cluster of towns west of Homs collectively known as the “Wadi,” or valley, have been guarded by armed Christian civilians for months as attacks against the community have increased since the outbreak of the uprising more than two years ago.

But Muslim militias say the idea that the regime is protecting Christians is “foolish,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University.

“What’s happening in Maaloula has happened in one town after the next across Syria. Rebels take a town, the regime responds with overwhelming power and force, lobbing shells, very indiscriminately killing people,” Landis said.

Some Syrian Christians say the regime is causing the worst of the attacks to force the Christians to choose sides decisively for the regime. Some even blame the regime for the terrorists being in Syria in the first place.

“I think that the regime is very accomplished in promoting sectarianism,” said Osama Edward, 35, a Syrian Christian who runs the Assyrian Network for Human Rights and is currently based in Stockholm. “The incident at Maaloula proves that beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Landis says the conflict has exacerbated Christian fears they are being driven out of the Middle East. Christians in Cairo and the West Bank, whose faith predates Islam by centuries, have been leaving their ancient enclaves because of threats and attacks.

“It doesn’t take much,” Landis said. “Christians were driven out of Anatolia before the first world war. They’ve been driven out of Iraq. They’ve been driven out of Palestine/Israel. The Copts have been getting the bad end of the stick in Egypt. The Syrian regime has been taken advantage of Christians feeling their days are numbered.”

Christians are still hoping they can avoid taking sides or taking up arms.

“We don’t care who is the ruler of this country,” said Amar Kassar, a Catholic priest from Qatana, a town west of the capital. Kassar was speaking to Sky News.

Kassar was severely injured by a mortar in a Damascus neighborhood last month.

“We are against the formation of an Islamic state. We want a Syrian secular state for all Syrians,” he said.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

STEPHEN STARR / USA TODAY |

Syrian Rebels Seize Control of Christian Village.


AMMAN, Jordan — Syrian rebels led by al-Qaida-linked fighters seized control of a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus, sweeping into the mountainside sanctuary in heavy fighting overnight and forcing hundreds of residents to flee, activists and locals said Sunday.

The battle over Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria’s religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in the civil war against President Bashar Assad‘s regime.

The prominence of al-Qaida-linked fighters has factored into the reluctance of Western powers to provide direct military support to the rebels. It has also figured in the debate underway in the Congress over whether to launch military strikes against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.

After days of clashes in and around Maaloula, rebels captured the village following fierce fighting late Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was led by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-affiliated group, as well as by the Qalamon Liberation Front.

He said around 1,500 rebels were inside Maaloula, while the army had the village surrounded.

Syria’s state news agency provided a dramatically different account of the battle, saying the military reported “progress” in its offensive in Maaloula.

“The army continued its military operation against terrorist elements in Maaloula village and its vicinity, inflicting a heavy casualty in the ranks of the terrorists, including their leaders,” the news agency said.

State-run TV reported that all churches in Maaloula were now safe and the army was chasing gunmen in the western hills.

But residents of Maaloula reached by telephone described fierce battles in the streets that forced them and other locals to flee as opposition fighters flooded the village.

One resident said the rebels — many of them wearing beards and shouting, “God is great!” — attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after seizing the village.

“They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village,” the resident said by telephone. “So many people fled the village for safety.”

Now, he said, Maaloula “is a ghost town.”

“Where is President Obama to see what befallen on us?” asked the man, who fled the village on Sunday. He declined to give his name out of fear for his safety.

Another resident who escaped earlier in the day said Assad’s forces were deployed on the outskirts of the village, while gunmen inside refused to allow anybody in. He said that one of the churches, called Demyanos, had been torched and that gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them.

A third resident reached by phone said he saw militants forcing some Christian residents to convert to Islam.

“I saw the militants grabbing five villagers Wednesday and threatening them: ‘Either you convert to Islam or you will be beheaded,'” he said.

The two other residents said they heard rumors about such conversions but did not see them. The reports could not be independently verified. All three residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Situated about 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Damascus, Maaloula had been firmly under the regime’s grip despite sitting in the middle of rebel-held territory east and north of the capital.

The village was a major tourist attraction before the civil war. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of biblical times believed to have been used by Jesus.

The attack highlights fears among Syrian Christians that the alternative to Assad’s regime — which is made up mostly of Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam — would not tolerate minority religions.

Such concerns have helped Assad retain the support of large chunks of Syria’s minority communities, including Christians, Alawites, Druze, and ethnic Kurds. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Obama Silent On Syrian Rebels Forcing Christians To Convert To Islam.


Why is Obama so silent on this?

Terrified Christians claim Syrian rebels ordered them to convert to Islam on pain of death when they ‘liberated’ their ancient village. Opposition forces, including fighters linked to Al Qaeda, gained temporary control of the Christian village of Maaloula after fighting with regime forces.

syrian-rebels-force-christian-conversion-to-islam-obama-silent-syria-damascus

The reports have reignited fears about western support for the rebel groups, which are increasingly being infiltrated by Islamic extremists.

One Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of whom had beards and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village.

‘They shot and killed people. 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?’

Another Christian resident said: ‘I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, “Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded”.’ Another said one church had been torched, and gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them.

The beautiful mountain village, 25 miles from Damascus, 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.

It has become a key strategic battleground in the Syrian civil war because of its proximity to the capital. It was held by President Assad’s regime, but taken at the weekend in a rebel advance spearheaded by the hardline 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 mainly 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.’ But 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.’source – Daily Mail UK

by NTEB News Desk

Al-Qaida-linked Syria Rebels Hit Christian Village.


BEIRUT — Al-Qaida-linked rebels launched an assault Wednesday on a regime-held Christian village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus — part of a brutal battle of attrition each side believes it can win despite more than two years of deadlock.

As the world focused on possible U.S. military action against Syria, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel in the village of Maaloula and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The attack came hours before a Senate panel voted to give President Barack Obama authority to use military force against Syria — the first time lawmakers have voted to allow military action since the October 2002 votes authorizing the invasion of Iraq.

The measure, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote, was altered at the last minute to support “decisive changes to the present military balance of power” in Syria’s civil war, though it ruled out U.S. combat operations on the ground. It was expected to reach the full Senate floor next week.

The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it’s not clear if U.S. military strikes over the regime’s alleged chemical weapons use would change that. Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change.

Obama has been lobbying for international and domestic support for punishing President Bashar Assad‘s regime, which the U.S. says fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near Damascus before dawn on Aug. 21, killing hundreds of civilians.

So far, however, he has won little international backing for action. Among major allies, only France has offered publicly to join the U.S. in a strike.

In a parliament debate, France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault made a passionate appeal for intervention in Syria, placing the blame for the alleged chemical attack on Assad and warning that inaction could let him carry out more atrocities.

The debate ended without a vote since President Francois Hollande can order a military operation without one.

Obama has called chemical weapons use a “red line,” and top administration officials argued before the Senate on Tuesday that Assad would take inaction by Washington as a license for further brutality against his people. The fighting has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and uprooted nearly 7 million from their homes.

During a visit to Sweden on Wednesday, Obama said a red line had been drawn by countries around the world that have backed a long-standing ban on chemical weapons. “I didn’t set a red line, the world set a red line,” he said.

With the Syria debate in Congress in full swing, questions arose around the administration’s assurances. It’s not clear, critics said, how the U.S. could expect to deliver surgical strikes in Syria’s chaotic battlefield or predict the repercussions, including possible Assad regime reprisals against Syria’s neighbors.

The civil war in Syria hit a stalemate almost from the start. The rebels control much of the countryside in the north, east and south, but the regime is hanging on to most urban centers in the west, where the majority of Syrians live.

Within that deadlock, each side has consolidated control over certain areas, said Peter Harling, a Syria expert at the International Crisis Group think tank.

Momentum “is always shifting enough for both sides to be able to convince themselves that victory is ultimately feasible,” he said. “In practice, both sides are stuck and can achieve very little militarily.”

The dawn assault on the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula was carried out by rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group, according to a Syrian government official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group.

At the start of the attack, an al-Nusra fighter blew himself up at a regime checkpoint at the entrance to the village, said the Observatory, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists.

The suicide attack was followed by fighting between the rebels and regime forces, the Observatory and a nun in the village said. Eventually, the rebels seized the checkpoint, disabled two tanks and an armored personnel carrier and killed eight regime soldiers in fighting, the British-based group said.

The nun said the rebels took over the Safir hotel atop a mountain overlooking the village and fired shells at it from there. “It’s a war. It has been going from 6 a.m. in the morning,” she said.

Some 80 people from the village took refuge in the convent, which houses 13 nuns and 27 orphans, she said.

A Syrian government official confirmed the assault and said the military was trying to repel the rebels. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.

Maaloula, a mountain village some 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Damascus, is home to about 2,000 residents, some of whom still speak a version of Aramaic, the ancient language of biblical times believed to have been spoken by Jesus.

The four-decade iron rule of the Assad clan over Syria has long rested on support from the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, Shiite Muslims and Kurds. The Assad family and key regime figures are Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while most rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims.

In fighting in Damascus, a mortar shell fired by rebels hit a sports hall, killing a member of the national tae kwon do team, 27-year-old Mohammed Ali Neimeh, the state news agency SANA said. Neimeh had been training for an upcoming Islamic Solidarity Tournament in Indonesia this week.

Rebels and regime forces also clashed on the outskirts of the capital, according to amateur video. In the Daraya district, several fighters fired assault rifles from behind an earthen embankment. Smoke rose from the neighborhood of Barzek after the shelling.

There were new signs of rivalry among rebel groups that have been fragmented from the start. The two main camps are the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, which portrays itself as the largest fighting group, and jihadist fighters, including thousands from outside Syria, who have become increasingly dominant, particularly in the north and sparsely populated east.

Among the jihadists, there have been several splits in recent months, particularly between those loyal to commanders in Syria and those who pledge allegiance to al-Qaida-linked groups in Iraq.

In an amateur video posted online Wednesday, a foreign fighter was seen standing among other bearded men who he says have come to Syria from Russia and the Caucasus to wage jihad, or holy war.

“Our brigade is called the Mujahedin of the Caucasus and the Levant, and we have our brothers from all over the world with us,” he said in halting Russian translated into Arabic. He said his men had broken away from one of the jihadi blocs, known as ISIS, and that the group is also “independent from Jabhat al-Nusra and others.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Tag Cloud