Sporadic fighting continues after Syrian government troops have regained control of the village of Maaloula, a center of Christianity in the region. RT’s correspondent reports from the village, amid shooting and fighter jets hovering overhead.
The Syrian Army says there are no militants in the hotel as they were kicked out by regime forces.
“We are being told there are about 200 militants hiding behind the mountains that are surrounding Maaloula village. This is why it’s still dangerous to be here, and this is why they allow journalists here only before sunset,” Finoshina reported from the village square.
“According to army there were local residents who were kept hostage in the basement of this hotel, but they are also free now,” she added.
Syrian government troops killed eight rebels and injured 20 others in fighting north of Maalula, SANA reported, citing an official.
RT’s Maria Finoshina reports that Syrian Army troops are firing at the mountaintop Safir Hotel, which Al-Nusra Front militants seized last Wednesday.
Pro-Assad forces earlier regained control of the village on Saturday, but were later pushed out by the rebels.
Weeklong battle for Maaloula
RT’s crew got caught in the crossfire at Maaloula as government forces were on a mission to force Al-Nusra Front rebels out of the village.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters carried out several attacks on Maaloula since last Wednesday, having by Sunday gained control over the village.
Maaloula – a mountain village of 2,000 residents, 60km northeast of Damascus – is a major pilgrimage destination for Christians from around the world.
It’s home to some of the most ancient Orthodox Christian relics and is also one of the very few places in the world where people still speak Aramaic, a biblical-era language that Jesus is believed to have spoken.
“It’s hard to believe that what used to be one of the most significant shrines of the Christian community all over the world is a battlefield now,” Maria Finoshina reported from the village on Saturday, her voice occasionally drowned out by the sound of gunfire.
Apart from being an ancient sanctuary on a UNESCO list of proposed World Heritage sites, Maaloula is also a very important strategic place on Syria’s map, situated on a highway between Damascus and Homs. The rebels have already established their bases in the west and south of the capital. The village in the northeast would significantly increase the rebels’ pressure on Damascus.