|Syria army retakes Maaloula||
Syrian army has retaken Maaloula in Rif Dimashq Governorate, four months after extremist al-Qaeda-linked militants overran the Christian town, a security official says.
"The army has taken full control of Maaloula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in al-Qalamun," the official told AFP on Monday, referring to the region in which Maaloula is located.
Syria's state news agency said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad captured Sarkha early Monday before also sweeping rebels out of Maaloula, an ancient Christian village set into the rocky hills. Hours later, a Syrian military commander said troops also seized the nearby town of Jibbeh.
The Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen, which closely follows the Syrian conflict, briefly broadcast footage that it said was from inside Maaloula, a predominantly Christian village, showing a cluster of buildings set in hilly terrain.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground, confirmed that both Sarkha and Maaloula had fallen to government forces.
The recapture comes after a string of successes for the Syrian army in the strategic al-Qalamoun region, including the seizure of the former militant bastion of Yabrud last month.
Two Al-Manar journalists killed
Meanwhile, two Al-Manar journalists were killed by terrorists Monday after the television crew came under attack in Maaloula, a security source told The Daily Star.
The journalists were identified as reporter Hamzah Hajj Hasan and cameraman Halim Allaw, the source said.
The Hezbollah-affiliated TV reported earlier in the day that its four-member crew came under fire in the predominantly Christian town.
“Al-Manar team was shot at by armed groups when [journalists] were covering the Syrian army’s takeover of the Maaloula town in Qalamoun,” the report said, without giving further details.
Maaloula is an important symbolic prize for Assad loyalists. Government supporters often claim that Assad is the only leader who can protect Syria's patchwork of Muslim and Christian minority sects.
The village, some 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of the capital, has a large Christian population. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, similar to the dialect spoken at the time of Christ.
Rebels seized Maaloula in early December, even as they were under fire from pro-Assad forces at the time. The rebels included fighters of the Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, who abducted 12 Greek Orthodox nuns from their convent during the fighting. The nuns were released unharmed in March in exchange for the Syrian government releasing dozens of Syrian women from prison.
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