Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day yesterday, as world leaders gathered in Russia for an economic summit expected to be overshadowed by the prospect of United States-led strikes against the Damascus regime.
Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighters included members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group.
Despite heavy army presence in the village, Abdul-Rahman said the rebels patrolled its streets on foot and in vehicles, briefly surrounding a church and a mosque before leaving early yesterday.
The rebels launched the assault on the ancient Christian village of Maaloula, which is on a UNESCO list of tentative world heritage sites, on Wednesday, after an al-Nusra fighter blew himself up at a regime checkpoint at the entrance to the mountain village. The village, about 40 miles (60 kilometres) northeast of Damascus, is home to 3,300 residents, some of whom still speak a version of Aramaic, the ancient language of biblical times believed to have been spoken by Jesus.