- (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Officials at Syria's oldest known church confirmed that bombs were found in the church's confessional box earlier this month.
Patriarch Gregory III Laham, a prominent Syrian Christian leader, confirmed that the bombs were found in a church in Yabroud, while he was out of the country in Britain earlier this month.
Yabroud was one of the earliest towns to join protests against President Bashir Al-Assad, and is now totally controlled by rebels, who have constructed walls and fences around the town, spraying them with three stars graffiti - symbolizing that the city is under the control of the Free Syrian Army.
The group has emphatically denied any connections to al-Qaeda or al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda linked rebel group also fighting against Assad's government.
Until earlier this month, Yabroud had a unique status in Syria. While out of the hands of Assad, it had also managed to resist al-Qaeda's encroaching influence and had implemented its own governing system.
"Using funds supplied by expatriate businessmen, local and foreign charities, the residents have established an independent government that manages everything from schools, the court and emergency services to humanitarian aid and defence," reported The Telegraph, whose reporters visited the city this fall.
Indeed, this self-sufficiency has been a source of pride for many who live in the town.
"For two years Yabroud has been liberated. We have civil and local councils. We have Sharia law tribunals and normal courts. We have muftis and lawyers - they carry out justice. We run the town by ourselves," Majed Jumaa, Yabroud Revolutionary Civil Council president, told RT.
For the two years, Christians have also lived in relative safety, though they along with the city's Muslim residents, have been asked to pay a protection tax to Yabroud's government.
"We as Christians pay so-called taxes. This is our input into society. We go to church and pay taxes. Muslims also pay," Wassim Bara, chief of the Revolutionary Tribunal, told the Russian Times. "We pay for the internal security brigades and for relief, aid and courts. They appeared because of the revolution – and they need money."
But in recent weeks, Yabroud's security and autonomy has been threatened. Other rebel groups, many of whose Muslim beliefs are far more extreme than those of the groups ruling Yabroud, have tried to impose their ideology on the city. In September, two al-Qaeda militants entered a mosque and demanded that the iman leave. While they were ultimately shouted down by those in the mosque, the experience rattled the city.
While the Syrian government has yet to attempt to overthrow Yabroud's government and retake the town, it has recently begun shelling its neighborhoods and earlier this month went after a Christian part of the city for the first time.