Syria army retakes Christian town of Maalula: security

Syria army retakes Christian town of Maalula: security
Nuns who were among a group freed after being held hostage by Islamist rebels in Syria, pray during a mass to celebrate their release at the Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus, on March 10, 2014.

DAMASCUS - Syrian regime forces retook the ancient Christian hamlet of Maalula in Damascus province on Monday, four months after mainly Islamist rebels overran it, a security official told AFP.

"The army has taken full control of Maalula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamun," the official said, referring to the region in which Maalula is located.

The recapture comes after a string of successes of the regime in the strategic Qalamun region, including the seizure of the former rebel bastion of Yabrud last month.

The main highway linking the capital Damascus to the city of Homs runs though Qalamun, which lies along the border with Lebanon.

Maalula fell to rebel forces last December, as the regime focused its attention on capturing towns along the Damascus-Homs highway.

The picturesque town is considered a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria, and its 5,000 pre-war residents are among the few in the world who still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.

When the town was taken by rebels, 13 nuns were forced from its convent and held by Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters until a prisoner swap with the regime in March.

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