Nearly three weeks ago, rebels from al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Syrian Christian village of Maaloula, seizing a hotel on a hilltop and using it as a base to shell the villagers below and eventually taking the town outright. Several failed military pushes later, parts of the town have been reclaimed, but al-Nusra is still at the hotel.
Most of the tiny village’s population fled when the attacks began, but a number of civilians fled to a convent on the outskirts of town, where nuns take care of orphans. It was never intended to be a long-term solution.
But roughly 40 civilians, including many of the orphans, are still stuck in the convent, with supplies dwindling and a looming humanitarian crisis, they have been appealing to Christians elsewhere in Syria for relief.
That’s going to be tough going, however, since Christians throughout Syria are taking the ongoing civil war particularly hard, stuck between an Assad government that has historically tolerated them, more or less, and Islamist-dominated rebels that see that tolerance as evidence of complicity, and aim to wipe them out.
Tiny towns like Maaloula are mostly off the beaten path in Syria. The villagers there still speak Aramaic, not Syrian Arabic, and beyond a tiny army post inside the village, which was burned almost immediately when al-Nusra attacked, there is little reason why the village would be of interest at all to al-Qaeda.
A statement from an alleged commander of al-Nusra promised to withdraw from the village if the Christians promised to keep the military from returning, but the village of a couple thousand people can’t realistically keep any fighting force out, and so al-Nusra has remained, leaving the villagers stuck in the middle of a civil war.