Islamist rebels have taken control of the Christian town of Maalola north of Damascus, after heavy clashes with Syrian government troops and local militias, a pro-opposition watchdog said Sunday, dpa reported.
The rebel fighters, mostly from the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front, seized the town overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
At least 17 rebels were killed and dozens of troops and militiamen were killed or injured, according to the organization which monitors the Syria conflict from its base in Britain.
Maalola is a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria. Many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of Syria's population of 22.5 million.
Thousands of Christians have left the country since the uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, fearing persecution by the Islamists fighting to oust him.
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