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15 september 2013 Last updated at 11:28 GMT  
NY1409UA10_MAALOULA_SYRIA_AIR

Syria gov’t gains Christian site Maaloula

After intense fighting, Syrian government forces have retaken control of the strategic mountain village Maaloula. Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad succeeded in reclaiming the Christian site from hardline Sunni Muslim combatants from al-Nusra, a group with ties to terror organisation al-Qaeda.

Maaloula contains a large statue of the Virgin Mary and both Orthodox and Catholic monasteries and remains one of the few places where Western Aramaic – the language of Jesus – is still spoken. The vast majority of Maaloula’s 3,300 inhabitants fled the ancient Christian village due to the fighting. Christians across Syria are fearful and turning to prayer.

Father Fadi Barkil, priest from Maaloula:

"Our three young men who sacrificed their souls, are now our new crosses which we are rising towards God. This might be the path; because without the cross we will get no resurrection. After the pain; the happiness always comes, I wish they are with us from above in these prayers. I hope they are happy with all their deeds on this earth."

While Assad controlled Syria, the Christian population had largely been protected from sectarian attacks from hardline Islamist groups, including al-Nusra. However, the Christian population has recently faced a campaign of kidnappings, beheadings and violence, particularly in areas controlled by rebels fighting against the Syrian regime.

Christian churchgoer in Damascus:

"It is not our fault to be a victim of grand politics. There are states that are conspiring on the Christians of the East. We will never leave our country, even if they slaughter us, and kill us; we will never leave our country. We will sacrifice our young children and ourselves for this homeland. Our homeland is so precious and this land is precious, we had built this country and we are the origin of this country, if they knew who are really the origin of this country; they would have never done what they did."

Syria’s Christians, who make up 10 per cent of the population, are one of the oldest such communities in the world. However, their very existence in the so-called "cradle of Christianity" is now under threat due to persecution from hardline Islamists seeking to impose a Sharia caliphate in the war-torn state.

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