Al Qaeda-linked rebels launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday -- part of a brutal battle of attrition each side believes it can win despite more than two years of deadlock.
In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
With the world focused on possible US military action against Syria, there were new signs of fragmentation in rebel ranks, with a small group of jihadis from Russia announcing it has broken away from an umbrella group known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it's not clear if US military strikes over the regime's alleged chemical weapons use would change that...
On Wednesday morning, rebels from the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group launched the assault on predominantly Christian Maaloula, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Damascus, according to a Syrian government official and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group.
At the start of the attack, an al-Nusra fighter blew himself up at a regime checkpoint at the entrance to the village, said the Observatory, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists.
The explosion was followed by fighting between the rebels and regime forces. Eventually, the rebels seized the checkpoint and disabled two tanks and an armored personnel carrier, the Observatory said. At least eight regime soldiers were killed in the fighting, the group said.
The nun said the rebels had taken over the Safir hotel atop a mountain overlooking the village and where shelling from there. "It's a war. It has been going from 6am in the morning," she said from her convent. The nun said the convent houses 13 nuns and 27 orphans. She said around 80 people from the village had come to the convent for safety.
A Syrian government official confirmed the assault and said the military was trying to repel the rebels...
Maaloula is a mountain village with about 2,000 residents, who are among a tiny group in the region that still speaks a version of Aramaic, the ancient language of biblical times also believed to have been spoken by Jesus.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 09/04/2013
Editor's Note: In the face of this story, Bill O'Reilly's statement last night, in debate with Kate Obenshain and Kirsten Powers, saying there was no significant al Qaeda element in the rebel factions, is simply ignorant and disgraceful. It may not be spin, but it is certainly uninformed. Note to Bill: John McCain is woefully ignorant of the facts on the ground and an intellectual toady for his agenda. Don't be a lemming...
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