After a multi-day siege, al-Qaeda-run faction Jabhat al-Nusra has conquered the Syrian village of Maaloula, though reports from state media are that Syrian troops continue to remain in the area, contesting control.
Maaloula is an ancient Christian community, where the locals still speak Aramaic and not Syrian Arabic. The village is the site of multiple ancient Christian churches, some dating back to the Roman era.
Hundreds of locals have fled since the rebels captured the village, and rebel media mouthpieces say that the fighters have attacked some of the churches. Other reports say that the fighters are forcibly converting the Christian, though how many even remain in the area after all this fighting is unclear.
It’s just the latest blow to Christianity in Syria, where communities that have survived through 1,500+ years of history are finding themselves faced with the choice of leaving or being wiped out by Islamist rebels. Al-Qaeda has accused Christians of being pro-Assad, but non-stop attacks from the rebels have virtually obliged them to hope that whatever happens in post-war Syria, it isn’t an al-Qaeda-run emirate, because if it is, the Christian minority won’t be there.