09/11/2013, 00.00
SYRIA

Maaloula: Christians say announcement of withdrawal by Islamic rebels is false

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army claim its forces evacuated the town in order to avoid bloodshed. Sources tell AsiaNews deny the report, saying terrorists are still entrenched in the town. With many residents are still holed up in their homes, Islamists are not letting anyone escape. In Damascus, hundreds of people attend the funerals of three young Catholics from Maaloula killed by Islamists.

Maaloula (AsiaNews) - The Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that it withdrew its fighters from Maaloula in order to avoid bloodshed among civilians. Christian residents have denied the claim, saying that "Islamists have not left the city. The statement is false and only serve to turn away media attention."

Sources told AsiaNews that the city is now almost deserted (pictured), but "with several families still trapped in their homes due to the crossfire between rebels and the regular army."

"People that fled to Damascus," they added, "are working with the local church to bring aid or have at least news about relatives and friends in Maaloula. So far, after long negotiations with the leaders of the Islamic militias, Christians have recovered the bodies of three young Catholics killed by extremists on 7 September." Their funeral was held yesterday in the Greek-Catholic cathedral in Damascus in the presence of hundreds of people.

The attack by Islamic extremists in Maaloula began on 5 September, and has become a symbol of the suffering of Christians in Syria.

It also confirms the close cooperation between the FSA, which claims to be secular, and Islamic terrorists from the al-Nusra Front.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is linked to the rebel cause, confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda fighters among the forces that invaded the town and desecrated the monasteries of Saint Tecla and Saint Sergius, destroying ancient fixtures and the crosses on their domes.

A few days after the beginning of the devastation, which the FSA has denied, Maaloula Christians wrote a letter to the US Congress, denouncing the horrors committed by Islamist insurgents against the civilian population.

"At 04.00 in the morning hour 05/09/3 Damascus, armed gangs of so-called Free Syrian Army, terrorists Jabhat al-Nosra, and criminals of the Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and M. East attacked our city," the letter said. They looted our "monasteries and churches, removing sacred images as they went on, ordering residents to abandon their religion to convert to Islam to save their life." (S.C.)

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