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Christians hold important roles in Syria's military. And the Assad regime today is heavily dependent on the National Defense Forces groups of local militias armed by the government to keep rebels from entering strategic towns and districts around the country.
The small homes of Maaloula wind up a rugged mountain, and once on top one can see a green expanse below of fig trees and vineyards. The town is home to mainly Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics and Muslims.
One of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria is here. Called Mar Sarkis, it is the Arabic name for St. Sergius, a Roman soldier executed for his Christian beliefs.
"They say, if the regime had only given up, then this level of violence would have never taken place," Landis said.
The highway runs to rebel held territory to the north and thus a key supply line for whoever can hold it.
But Muslim militias say the idea that the regime is protecting Christians is "foolish," said Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University.
A United Nations team of weapons inspectors has returned to Syria to continue their investigation into allegations of chemical weapons use during the country's civil war.
The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria's 2 million Christians.
"No one came near us, and no one shot at the churches or the locals, Saucony Blue Apple
nor did they assault the nuns," Saeaf said.
Towns such as Saidnaya to the north of Damascus and a cluster of towns west of Homs collectively known as the "Wadi," or valley, have been guarded by armed Christian civilians for months as attacks against the community have increased since the outbreak of the uprising more than two years ago.
terrorists and foreign jihadists bent on destroying the country's secular fabric.
Lebanese airport officials told the Associated Press that the team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Beirut Wednesday morning on its way back to Syria. Reuters reported that at least eight members of Reebok Question Mid Blue Toe On Feet
Fearful that the town would be destroyed, hundreds of Christian men from Saidnaya just outside Damascus and elsewhere joined Assad's troops to oust the rebels.
However, worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people, as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks, have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.
"Many of us came from the next town and about 30 others came from the Bab Touma and Qassa," said Sari, a 24 year old civilian who asked not to be identified out of fear of being targeted by the rebels. "We heard that Jabhat al Nusra (was) kidnapping girls and destroying churches in Maaloula, so we went there for three days to fight al Nusra."
"The Christians now live in a terror," said Hussam, a Christian from the nearby town of Saidnaya, who asked not to be identified because he feared for the safety of his family if he was to talk openly. "But they want to stay in Syria no matter what."
Some Syrian Christians say the regime is causing the worst of the attacks to force the Christians to choose sides decisively for the regime. Some even blame the regime for the terrorists being in Syria in the first place.
Syrian rebel groups say the Syrian military carried out the shelling of the town and is blaming rebels to stir up trouble. In an unverified video posted to YouTube after the initial attack, a commander for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Maaloula is seen ordering his soldiers to "respect and protect the holy sites and historical churches."
The Syrian government has gone to great lengths to present itself as the sole protector of Christians and other religious minorities, saying it is locked in a battle with Reebok Memory Tech Shoes
Sama TV, a pro Assad television station, reported that three Christians were killed by "terrorists" during clashes in Maaloula this month. Its footage impossible to verify showed hundreds of angry mourners at a church in Damascus chanting Reebok Ventilator Perf support for Assad.
On Wednesday, moderate Syrian rebels were engaged in their fiercest fighting to date with al Qaeda affiliated fighters on Syria's northern and eastern borders. Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was battling with the Free Syrian Army led by Salim Idriss, according to the AFP news service.
"What's happening in Maaloula has happened in one town after the next across Syria. Rebels take a town, the regime responds with overwhelming power and force, lobbing shells, very indiscriminately killing people," he added.
Syrian Christians may be pulled into intensifying war
Christians have lived here for centuries. They have largely supported Assad's regime but are increasingly pawns in the propaganda war between the rebels and the regime.
Residents told news media outlets that when rebels entered Maaloula, they destroyed precious censors, or incense holders, and Bibles from several churches. Some accused rebels of shelling churches and homes in the town. Others dispute those accounts.
There were early reports rebels had damaged St. Taqla's, a 4th century convent known for its bright blue cross atop a rounded cupola and for its powers of healing. Mother Bilajea Saeaf, director of Maaloula's St. Teqla Convent, told Lebanese LBC TV that the facility has been untouched.
ISTANBUL A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.
the team were seen arriving at a Damascus hotel in a convoy of five United Nations cars at around midday Wednesday. on Tuesday said the inspectors will use their new visit to gather evidence from the alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 on the village of Khan al Assal outside the city of Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels in July.
"I think that the regime is very accomplished in promoting sectarianism," said Osama Edward, 35, a Syrian Christian who runs the Assyrian Network for Human Rights and is currently based in Stockholm. "The incident at Maaloula proves that beyond a reasonable doubt."
In the latest major attack on a Christian district, rebels fighting alongside members of the jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra stormed a government checkpoint at the entrance to the town Sept. 4. The rebel aim was to seize control of a portion of the Damascus Homs highway, a main route from the capital of Damascus.
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