Syrian army attacks hills around Christian village captured by rebel forces
The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from rebels, said there was a truce Monday morning in order for paramedics to evacuate 10 wounded Christian residents.
He added that one church on the western side of the village was burnt.
A nun in the village told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that Nusra Front members are still in control of the village, adding that they entered her convent early Monday and took pictures and videos of the site.
"The Syrian army is on the outskirts," said Pelagia Sayaf, who heads the Mar Takla convent. "We only know about what is happening in the convent. We know nothing about outside and whether anyone was killed or kidnapped ... There are sporadic clashes and I can hear the sound of warplanes."
In the video released by rebels, a masked commander surrounded by eight masked gunmen said that rebels would pull back from the town after "blowing up this post that used to harm Muslims." He added that "we will soon withdraw from this city not out of fear but to leave the homes to their owners."
As he spoke, sounds of explosions and shooting could be heard in the background. The commander said regime forces were shelling the village.
Two nuns also appeared in the video, saying they were well-treated by the rebels. "They behaved well with us and they did not harm us," said one of the nuns at the rebels' prompting.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
Some residents of the town reached by phone had previously claimed abuses by rebels, including one who said he saw Christian villagers being threatened with death unless they converted to Islam. The accounts could not be independently verified. They also spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals.
Situated about 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Damascus, Maaloula had until recently been firmly under the regime's grip despite sitting in the middle of rebel-held territory east and north of the capital.
The village was a major tourist attraction before the civil war. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, a biblical language believed to have been used by Jesus.
The attack highlights fears among Syrian Christians that the alternative to Assad's regime — which is made up mostly of Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam — would not tolerate minority religions.
Such concerns have helped Assad retain the support of large chunks of Syria's minority communities, including Christians, Alawites, Druze and ethnic Kurds. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims.
The Observatory meanwhile said that three rockets hit a traffic police station in the central city of Homs, killing 11 policemen and wounding more than 10, after midnight Monday.
Syria's crisis, which began in March 2011, has killed more than 100,000 people according to the U.N.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Beirut.
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