Christian Town of Maaloula Recaptured by Syrian Army

The Syrian Army has recaptured the Christian town of Maaloula, along with the nearby villages of Sarkha and Jibbeh, from rebel forces, its state media announced Monday.

State media and security officials confirmed this week that the Syrian government, with the help of Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters, has retaken Maaloula, Sarkha and Jibbeh. The three towns have been under the control of rebel fighters, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, since December.

"The army has taken full control of Maaloula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in al-Qalamun," a security official confirmed to the AFP on Monday. Al-Qalamun is the area in which Maaloula, Sarkha, Jibbeh, and other villages north of Damascus are located.

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The Tehran Times reports that the recapturing of these three towns is the latest in multiple victories by the Syrian Army and President Bashar al-Assad. Just last month, the army recaptured the rebel bastion of Yabrud, a move that dealt a serious blow to rebel forces, as Yabrud sits on the border of Lebanon and a major highway where rebels often smuggle weapons and fellow fighters.

According to NPR, the recent recapturing of Maaloula, Sarkha, and Jibbeh is pivotal in President Bashar al-Assad's control of the country, as the three towns were considered gateways to the country's capital of Damascus.

The mountain town of Maaloula has been a hotspot of fighting in the Syrian civil war since it was captured by rebel fighters in December. The predominately Christian town is known to house two of the country's oldest monasteries, Mar Sarkis and Mar Taqla. The village's heavy Christian population is due in part to the belief that this town is considered to be one of three where the language of Jesus, Western Aramaic, is still used.

Maaloula made headlines  in December when Syrian rebels took 12 nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Thecla hostage. The nuns were only released last month as part of a prisoner exchange between rebel forces and the Syrian Army.

President al-Assad announced over the weekend that he believes the recent victories on behalf of the government's army mark a "turning point" in the three-year conflict between his regime and rebel forces.

"This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country," the state-run news agency Sana reported the president as saying.

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