Syria rejects militants' control claims over Christian village
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Syrian army forces continue their battle against armed terrorists in the Christian village of Ma'loula, rejecting claims made by foreign-backed militants that they have gained control over the entire area. The reports come shortly after the so-called Syrian Observatory said the militants had taken over the historic mountain village, located northeast of the capital, Damascus, on Sunday. The village has witnessed days of clashes between Syrian army forces and militants mostly from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, known for attacking and killing minorities. A large number of the town's 5,000 residents have fled their homes since the militants arrived in the area. Residents say the terrorists have attacked their homes and churches after arriving in the village. The al-Nusra Front militants attacked the village on September 4, seizing the mountaintop Safir Hotel and shelling one of its communities. On September 6, the Syrian army sent reinforcement to the area. Ma'loula is of strategic significance to the foreign-backed militants who have been trying to gain control of key areas around Damascus. The historic village, which is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria: Mar Sarkis and Mar Takla. Some villagers there still speak a version of Aramaic; an ancient language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ. Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since March 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.