On 16 July 2012, I went to the old Christian village of Maalula, around an hour’s drive from Damascus. The inhabitants of Maalula are descended from the Semitic tribes which populated the Syrian desert and part of Mesopotamia fourteen centuries ago. The monastery of Mar Sarkis was built in the fourth century on the ruins of a pagan temple. Its Byzantine architecture contains one of the earliest surviving Christian altars. The monastery also possesses a unique collection of sixteenth to eighteenth century religious icons. Maalula is one of the very last places where one can encounter people speaking Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
Once again, the route was safe. There were many cars on the streets, destined for the cities of Hama, Homs and Aleppo. I interviewed inhabitants of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Tekla and Arabic Christian pilgrims and visitors. They all expressed the belief that President Bashar would lead the country out of the crisis, and that in Syria Muslims and Christians live peacefully together. A nun told me: “This city and its church are founded on the rocks of Syria. They symbolize the stability and power of Syria. We will manage this crisis.”
This happened to Maalula yesterday:
An assault on Maalula was carried out by terrorists from the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group, according to several media reports. At the beginning of the attack, an al-Nusra fighter blew himself up at an army checkpoint at the entrance to the village. The suicide attack was followed by heavy fighting between terrorists and army units. Eventually, the terrorists seized the army checkpoint, disabled two tanks and an armored personnel carrier and killed eight soldiers, claim sources of the so called "armed opposition". A nun said the terrorists took over the Safir hotel atop a mountain overlooking the village and fired shells at it from there. Some 80 people from the village took refuge in the convent, which houses 13 nuns and 27 orphans, the nun said.
"Allahu akbar, from center of Maalula, it has been purified completely from the dogs and shabihas of Bachar al-Assad. Here is the town behind" (he shows with his hand).
Another person says: "We are coming for you, with God’s help we are coming to get everyone."