The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Saturday that fighting continued in the town a predominantly Christian settlement near Damascus, for the third day running.
Meanwhile, media sources close to the government have accused opposition fighters of destroying churches and other Christian buildings. However, the FSA’s Military Council in Damascus and the suburbs said in a statement that “government forces attacked Mar Sarkis monastery in Maalula with heavy artillery and tank shells, destroying parts of the monastery.”
Opposition activists also published a video on YouTube which they said showed government missiles falling on the Safir Hotel near the monastery.
However, the head of the Mar Taqla monastery in the town, Mother Blajya Sayyaf, denied that any religious buildings had come under any attack.
Opposition activists said “the government forces entered Jabaadeen village next to Maalula following violent clashes,” adding that “the government was mobilizing large numbers of troops to attack the village and recapture it.” SOHR confirmed violent fighting took place between the opposition fighters and government forces, on the outskirts of Maalula.
In the mean time, a member of the Syrian Christians for Democracy organization and the opposition National Council, Wa’el Da’ajah, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “information pointed to the fact that no attacks took place on churches and monasteries in Maalula,” adding that “this information is part of a propaganda campaign by the Syrian government to make the West think minorities in Syria, including Christians, are threatened with genocide if the government were to fall.”
Meanwhile, SOHR has accused the Syrian government of targeting Christian religious places. It said the government has bombarded at least 33 churches around the country since the start of the conflict, adding that “the churches targeted by the government include 10 in Homs, seven in Aleppo, five in Damascus, five in Dayr Ezzour, three in Latakia, two in Idleb, and one in Raqqa.”
Elsewhere, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said 530 people had defected from government forces in August. The council said senior officers and members of the Palestine Liberation Army, affiliated to the Syrian army, were among the defectors.