Amman: Syrian activists say rebels including al-Qaeda-linked fighters have gained control of the Christian village of Maaloula northeast of the capital Damascus.
The rebel advance into the area this week was reportedly spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities in particular about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Nusra Front backed by another group, the Qalamon Liberation Front, moved into the village after heavy clashes with the army yesterday.
"The army pulled back to the outskirts of the village and both (rebel groups) are in total control of Maaloula now," he told The Associated Press today.
He said pro-government fighters remain inside the village, in hiding.