Historic Christian Village Maaloula, Stage for Syrian Clashes
Sep 11 2013 "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you." Psalm 9:9-10
The Christian village of Maaloula, 30 miles northeast of Damascus, has become a hotly contested battleground for rebel groups and the government army since Wednesday, Sept 4. The village had been under the firm control of the Assad regime until a suicide attack breached one of the government checkpoints in the village.
News reports say that five armed groups fought the government troops and succeeded in occupying parts of the village. Government forces briefly regained control on Thursday. The rebels reclaimed parts of the city two days later in a second coordinated assault initiated by the opposition.
The historic village of Maaloula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is viewed by many as a beacon of Christianity in Syria. It is well known as the home of Christians who still speak Aramaic, the biblical language spoken by Jesus. Before war broke out, tourists and religious pilgrims flocked to its historic churches and convents, as well as to the narrow gorge, which, according to legend, was formed when the mountain miraculously opened up to protect Thecla, a pupil of the Apostle Paul, from her persecutors. In last week’s attacks, opposition groups gave assurances that church buildings would not be damaged, but according to recent reports at least three churches were seriously damaged during the fighting.
Combatants on both sides of the conflict have been killed; civilians, including Christians, have also lost their lives in the fighting. Most of the approximately 3,000 villagers, Muslims as well as Christians, have fled to safer regions in Syria.
Conflicting reports from various sources have made it difficult to determine what is actually happening on the ground. A civilian said that rebels were stealing everything from the Christians; meanwhile two nuns declared in a video that they were well treated by the rebels and not harmed at all. Rumors were spread on the internet of atrocities against the Christian inhabitants. Some said that Christians were being forced to deny their faith in Jesus and become Muslims. These reports could not be confirmed and some trustworthy news agencies have maintained that “no churches and monasteries have been attacked.” Confusion reigns in Maaloula: at times it is difficult to ascertain whether the government or rebel forces are in control. Reports claim that the rebels were linked to Al Qaeda; others say they were fighters of Jabhat Al Nusra.
On Monday, September 9, government troops launched a new offensive against the rebel fighters who were holding strategic positions in the hills overlooking the village. The Syrian army had, and still has, a strong presence in the village. Various sources call Maaloula a “strategic” village.
Father, we lift before You today the people of Maaloula. We pray for those who were forced to leave their homes and belongings, the historic village that has been the home of their ancestors for generations. Heal those who have been wounded and bring peace to those traumatized by war. In the divide among the world’s leaders over how and when to enter into the conflict, whether through military force or diplomatic means, send Your Holy Spirit to guide and overrule with godly wisdom. We pray for peace—peace from the conflict and peace between men and Yourself, in both cases a peace that can only come from You. In the name of Jesus our only hope in life and death, Amen.