A Christian village in Syria, one of the few remaining places where the ancient language of Aramaic is spoken, is under attack by government forces, rebels and al-Qa'ida-linked fighters, reports AP in The Australian.
The rebels and al-Qa'ida-linked fighters say they have gained control of the village of Maaloula, northeast of the capital Damascus. Government media, however, provides a dramatically different account of the battle, suggesting regime forces are winning.
It is impossible to independently verify the reports from the scenic mountain community known for being one of the few places in the world where residents still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic. The village is on a UNESCO list of tentative world heritage sites.
The rebel advance into the area this week was spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.
It was not immediately clear why the army couldn't sufficiently reinforce its troops to prevent the rebel advance in the area only 43km from Damascus.
Some activists say that Assad's forces are stretched thin, fighting in other areas in the north and south of the country. Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Nusra Front backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes with the army late on Saturday.
FULL STORY Aramaic-speaking Christians attacked near Damascus (The Australian)