Maaloula (AsiaNews) - Maaloula, the only village in the world where Aramaic from the time of Jesus is still spoken, is now deserted after an attack by Islamic extremists, who in recent days have started to destroy the village on behalf of the Free Syrian Army. Of the approximately 3 thousand residents, a few hundred have remained to guard their homes.
"This morning, the terrorists destroyed the crosses on the dome of the monastery of St Sergius," a local priest told AsiaNews on condition of anonymity (for security reasons). "Their act is a declaration of war against the Christian community. By removing the cross, they want to send a clear message: it is now the turn of the Christians. Now anything can happen."
The priest said that the rebels had been near the village for more than seven months, but only now started the war against the Christians (video).
"Last night," he said, "they tried to invade the village's neighborhoods, but withdrew. Our young people defended the houses but they are for peace, they are not warriors. Everyone is fleeing from Maaloula, because we can no longer live here. "
The priest slammed the Free Syrian Army, which has always denied links with al- Qaeda, for posting a video on YouTube showing militias defending the churches and Christians, pure propaganda in his view.
"The Free Army is free in name only. In fact, it has been a threat to Christians for a long time, saying repeatedly that sooner or later our turn would come."
What hurts the most, the priest said, is the presence of some Muslims from the village in the ranks of the Islamists.
"So far, most Muslims are with the Christians," he explained. "The sheikh condemned the attack saying that what is happening is against Islam: 'Violence cannot be carried out either in the name of Allah or Muhammad,' he said. Unfortunately, these fighters do not respect local Muslim leaders, who, like us, are powerless in the face of all this hate. "
Classified as a UNESCO heritage site, Maaloula is located some 40 km north of Damascus. The village is famous throughout the world as one of the symbols of Christianity in the Middle East.
It is home to the monastery of St Taqla (Thecla), inhabited by Orthodox nuns, and the convent of Mar Sarkis (St Sergius) run by Greek Catholic (Melkite) priests.
For centuries, both have been a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims.
Considered a symbol of religious coexistence, the village is the only place in the world where Aramaic is still spoken. (S.C.)