|Assad visits recaptured Christian town of Maaloula||
President Bashar Assad on Sunday toured a historic Christian village his forces recently captured from rebels, state media said, as the country's Greek Orthodox Patriarch vowed that Christians in the war-ravaged country "will not submit and yield" to extremists.
Syrian state TV and the country's official SANA news agency said Assad was in Maaloula, inspecting the damage done in recent fighting to its monasteries and churches, AP reported.
During his visit to the village Sunday, Assad promised to defend Christians and protect churches that he said were part of Syria's cultural heritage.
"Nobody, regardless of the extent of their terror, can erase our cultural and human history," a report by SANA quoted Assad as saying as he surveyed damage to Mar Takla Greek Orthodox monastery. Despite damage to holy sites in the village, Assad told state TV that "Maloula will remain steadfast in face of barbarism of all those, who are targeting the homeland."
Christians make up about ten percent of Syria's population. Assad's forces and rebels trying to overthrow him are locked in a civil war in which more than 150,000 people have been killed. Millions have been driven from their homes during the 3-year-old conflict.
In comments to mark Easter, Patriarch John Yazigi called on the warring sides to end the practice of intimidation, displacement, extremism and takfiri mentality. Such radicals have become increasingly influential among rebels, attacking Christians— who they see as infidels — partly as punishment for their support of Assad.
Yazigi called for dialogue and reconciliation, hailing Syria as a home for Muslims and Christians alike. But he said there would be no reckoning with extremists, vowing that "we will not submit and yield to those who transgress against our people and holy places."
The rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front, took Maaloula several times late last year. Their last attempt to capture and hold on to the ancient Christian hamlet came in mid-December. Government troops swept through the village on Monday sending rebel fighters fleeing to nearby hills.
Maaloula is located some 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Damascus and is home to a large Christian population. The army's triumph in the village was an important symbolic prize for the government in its quest to be seen as protector of religious minorities, including Syria's Christians, who have largely supported the Assad’s rule.
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