Syrian troops have launched an attack on hills overlooking the Christian-majority village of Ma’loula, two days after militant groups captured parts of the ancient village.
Opposition sources say government forces attacked the hills around Ma’loula village early on Monday under the cover of heavy shelling.
Ma’loula is reported to be almost empty after most of its residents fled following the arrival of the foreign-backed militants last week. According to a resident, who left the area in the past days, only around 50 people remain there.
Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and the Qalamun Liberation Front are reported to be in control of some parts of the historic village, which is located about 70 kilometers northeast of Damascus.
Residents say militants have burned a church on the western side of the village and stormed into two other churches and robbed them.
Anti-Damascus militants attacked Ma’loula on Wednesday and briefly entered the village a day after. But they were forced to pull out hours later following heavy clashes with Syrian troops.
Militants recaptured some parts of Ma’loula following fierce fighting late Saturday. One resident said the militants attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after entering the village.
The historic village, which is on a UNESCO list of world heritage sites, is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria: Mar Sarkis and Mar Takla. Some villagers there still speak a version of Aramaic, an ancient language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.