Syrian rebels withdraw from Christian town

Syrian rebels who seized an entry to a Christian town north of Damascus this week have now withdrawn to protect religious and archaeological sites there, an opposition statement said.

“Free Syrian Army (FSA) units on Wednesday destroyed posts at Maalula and Jabadine held by the army on the Damascus-Homs road after fierce clashes with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and auxiliaries,” the Syrian National Coalition said overnight.

“The FSA was stationed for several hours in the vicinity, but did not attack any church or convent,” the statement added.

The Coalition stressed its “commitment to protect all Syrians, no matter what their religion, race, confession or political belief, and its constant concern to preserve Syria’s human and religious heritage by every means possible”.

On Wednesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said jihadist fighters of the Al-Nusra Front seized a military post at Maalula after a suicide attack.

It said regime warplanes later launched three air raids on the checkpoint taken by the Islamists.

The Observatory, which relies on a community of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground for its information, said the assault began when a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber exploded at the checkpoint.

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