Whatever your beliefs, the destruction meted out in Maaloula, an ancient Syrian town, by terrorists the West said were bringing ‘freedom’ to Syria should make you weep.
“There was the expected destruction from battles waged by and on the terrorists. There was further—clearly-intentional—destruction meted out systematically by the al-Qaeda death squads—particularly on Christian, cultural, and heritage sites.
…In Maaloula, terrorists likewise took great apparent pleasure in destroying and desecrating Christian relics, to the extent of gouging out the eyes from icons and mosaics and shooting down the large clifftop Jesus and Mary statues which had overlooked the village. They likewise burned, robbed and vandalized churches and homes. …
Outside of the early fourth century A.D. Monastery of Sts. Sergius et Bacchus, NDF volunteers and other locals swept rubble, and prepared for the long process of restoration. Inside the ancient church, light poured through mortar holes in the unadorned white dome smashed by terrorist-fired mortars. According to the General, when the SAA had pushed the invaders back beyond the monastery, the terrorists fired mortars towards the monastery and village. They later occupied the monastery, then looted and vandalized it. …
‘They stole many idols from here, including the oldest one in the church,’ the volunteer said. The smashed altar with its unique ridged rim is said to be from between 330 and 325 A.D. ‘In other churches, the altar is rectangular and flat. And only here the altar is a half-circle and rimmed, like the altars of pagans for their animal sacrifice,’ she explained. …
The arson at the tenth-century Convent of St. Thekla was visible from the street, the top two floors utterly blackened by fires set by the invaders. …
In the convent’s Church of St. John the Baptist they likewise set fires, black soot reaching the painted dome high above. They completely destroyed the altar, as well as the pews—which presumably fueled the fire. Throughout the halls of the convent and inside the church itself, NATO’s mercenaries tore, stabbed, burned, or stole Christian iconography, looting what they could, meticulously destroying what was unmovable. Since none of that was possible for the images painted directly on stone walls, they instead machine-gunned the eyes and faces of Mary and Jesus, as well as a stone cross.””
From 2016, testimonies of Maaloula civilians & defenders:
“…Since 2013, September has for the historic village of Maaloula been a month of tragic anniversaries. Crimes and atrocities committed by Western, Gulf, Turkish and Zionist-backed terrorists there in September alone include murders, maimings, kidnappings, and the beginning of what would be the vast destruction and looting of Maaloula’s rich and unique ancient heritage.
On September 4, 2013, a Jordanian suicide-bomber exploded his truck at the Syrian army checkpoint at the arched gate outside the village. This was immediately followed by attacks on Syrian soldiers nearby, mainly by al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) terrorists—including Chechens, Uighurs, Turkestanis, Libyans, and Saudis, as well as locals.
On September 7, 2013, terrorists point-blank assassinated three unarmed Maaloula men after they refused to convert to Islam, critically injuring one of the men’s sisters.
On September 13, 2013, a group of roughly twenty Syrians, including a Maaloula local, climbed the mountains above the town in an attempt to observe the never-interrupted, nearly 1,700 year old, annual traditions of the Festival of the Holy Cross. Terrorists attacked the men, killing roughly half of them and abducting the others (1).
Although since March 2013 al-Nusra and FSA, among other terrorist factions, had occupied areas of the cliffs above and beyond the over 4,000 year old village, the September 4th attack began what would be an eight month battle by Maaloula’s defence forces, the Syrian Arab Army, and Hezbollah to liberate the village from terrorists who bombed, burned, looted, and in any way possible attempted to destroy the heritage of Maaloula.
According to Maaloula local defence soldiers, between September 4, 2013 and April 14, 2014, at least 200 soldiers of the Syrian army were killed in the battles to liberate Maaloula, including at least four who were savagely beheaded in the initial terrorist attacks. Their honourable sacrifices will not be forgotten.
The less-recognized heroes in Maaloula’s fight against terrorism were those villagers who defied terrorists’ commands or with arms resisted them, and continue to do so now.
In July 2016, I returned to Maaloula to see how life had improved since April 2014, and to hear the accounts of Maaloula’s heroic defenders and of a woman left for dead.
Testimonies of Terror and Bravery
Mikhael Taalab, a baker in nearby ‘Ayn at-Tina, Anton Taalab (Mikhael’s nephew), a shoemaker and a postman, and Serkis Zakhen a fourth year university student, were assassinated by terrorists on September 7, 2013, with the aid of treacherous local terrorists (2).
Anton’s sister Antoinette survived the attack, but is physically and mentally still wounded. Her left elbow is jointless from the grenade, which tore off flesh and bone, and while the chest bullet wound has since healed, when recounting the events, she struggled to breathe, affected by the memories. Sitting on her balcony, to a backdrop of evening calm Antoinette delivered her horror story.
“We woke up on September 7th to the voices of terrorists shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.”
As al-Nusra and FSA terrorists spread through the streets and main square of the town, at least three of the armed men passed through an iron gate, and continued up a narrow, winding path in the old quarter, reaching the home of Antoinette and Anton.
“When they arrived here, our door was closed. They broke it open and burst into the house.”
Traditional Maaloula homes have a small curtained cave off the central sitting room, used like a pantry for storing grains and other goods. When the terrorists began shooting that morning, Anton, Antoinette, her elderly near-blind and near-deaf father, her aunt, Serkis and Mikhail hid in the cave. Had the terrorists been solely outsiders, the family might have survived the attack. The terrorists went straight for the cave.
“They told us to get out, told us they would give us safety,” Antoinette recounted. “Anton, Serkis and Mikhail went outside to the balcony to plead with them and my father, aunt and I stayed in the sitting room.”
Although they knew that only women and an elderly man remained in the room, the attackers shot inside. One of the bullets ricocheted off a wall and went through Antoinette’s chest. “When I was hit, I crawled under the chest in the corner of the living room and prayed to the Virgin Mary.”
Stepping inside her home, Antoinette showed me the white-walled, timber-ceilinged sitting room where her slight father lay sleeping under the photo of his murdered son. His sole son.
The tiny storage cave in which they had initially sheltered, a large window, and the sofas were all covered with the same pattern of cloth. With its small, curtained opening, the cave entrance would have been almost unnoticeable, had the attackers not already known where to look.
Antoinette recounted how lying bleeding inside the house, she heard her brother, brother-in-law, and nephew being murdered.
“The terrorists told Anton to say the Shahada. Anton told them ‘I was born Christian and I will die Christian.’,” Antoinette recalled. Mikhael and Sarkis were likewise ordered to convert to Islam, and likewise refusing, were assassinated.
At some point in the invasion, the terrorists threw a grenade into the room. “There was a bright light and I felt something hit my arm,” Antoinette recounted, grasping her destroyed elbow.
Before leaving, terrorists deliberated on bringing a gas canister into the sitting room to explode, but in the end shot at and exploded it in its kitchen location.
When four hours later local defence force soldiers—braving heavy sniper fire—reached Antoinette, she was sallow and weak.
One soldier carried Antoinette over his shoulder while running under sniper fire for about 500 metres along the old quarter’s narrow, stepped, paths. He later explained that shehad been brave and had also refused to cower to her attackers, refusing their order to go with them in return for treatment to her chest and arm wounds. He quoted her as saying: “I told them leave me alone, I’d rather die.”
Due to the heavy sniping, it was impossible for the soldiers to return for Antoinette’s father. Wounded in his hand, he and her aunt remained one day in the home, with the bodies of his son and relatives, before being reached and taken to a home nearby.
It was three days before the Syrian Arab Red Crescent could retrieve the bodies of Anton, Mikhail and Serkis, also bringing out Antoinette’s father and seven other surviving elderly residents. Terrorists kidnapped six Maaloula men on the same day. Until now their whereabouts are not known (3).
According to Maaloula advocate Abdo Haddad, the number of terrorists attacking Maaloula were far more than what was initially thought to be 400 terrorists.
“After they first attacked Maaloula, every terrorist group wanted to claim they were part of the attack. We had people from every neighbouring village attacking us, including Yabroud, Rankous, and including terrorists of Hamas, Ahrar al-Sham, Ahfad al-Rasoul, among others. These people were rewarded after they destroyed civilization,” he said, referring to how the West supplies “moderates” such as these with TOW missiles and other weapons to kill more Syrians.
Head of Maaloula City Council, Naji Wahbi, echoed what other residents said regarding the subject of local terrorists:
“The people who were in the FSA in Maaloula, we knew them personally. They were first FSA, then became al-Nusra, and some later became ISIS. The local FSA brought al-Nusra to Maaloula.”
According to Wahbi, the Syrian army did not have a presence within the village and had not for some months. “It was all civilians.”
Local defenders had until September succeeded in keeping terrorists at bay, but early on the morning of September 4th, al-Nusra and other terrorists descended from the mountaintop, first in the suicide pickup truck, then followed by a number of vehicles loaded with terrorists.
Although defence forces on guard in the village tried repeatedly to warn the Syrian soldiers at the checkpoint beyond, there was no response. One of the soldiers explained that it is believed the Syrian soldiers had been drugged or poisoned:
“On the morning of the attack, one of our Muslim families took food that was drugged to the soldiers at the checkpoint. When we saw the pickup truck going down, we shot rounds in the air to warn those at the checkpoint, but no one replied. The truck reached them and exploded.”
Abdo Haddad, further explained:
“Our defenders did everything they could to alert the soldiers at the checkpoint. They called their cell phones, their landlines, their radio. They shot five warning shots, in intervals. The soldiers—if they had been awake—should have been alarmed.”
One of the more notorious terrorists from Maaloula, Emad Diab, was the number two in command of the terrorists attacking the village, Haddad explained.
“He is also the uncle of the woman who we believe poisoned the soldiers at the checkpoint.” According to Haddad, Diab in late 2014 is believed to have used the same drugging technique, in tea, on Syrian soldiers and Hezbollah resistance at Assal al-Ward, leading to their killing or capture.
By September 7th, after days of battles against the terrorist factions, another effort was made to cleanse the village and return it to safety. Local soldiers in the old quarter largely kept the terrorists from entering, but eventually terrorists did infiltrate some areas, including their assault on the home of Antoinette and Anton.
Dr Joseph Saadeh, a dentist and also a city council member, lives in old Maaloula but was in neighbouring ‘Ayn at-Tina that day, doing what he could to defend his village.
“We were at the centre of the army commander, and we helped them with some locations. Our defenders in the old city told us the areas where the terrorists were, and we pointed them out on the map so that the army could give the coordinates to fire on the terrorists.”
The odds weren’t in the favour of the defenders of Maaloula that day. Terrorists were able to take positions in the caves above the village, and eventually to take over the village, the start of an on-off occupation which lasted until April 2014.
Maaloula defence were able, however, to escort the remaining elderly from their homes in the old quarter, through twisting narrow lanes to a drain tunnel near the Thekla convent where the most infirm were evacuated in armoured vehicles. Those remaining residents who could walk took an arduous route of walking along inside the drain until they reached the Green Valley area, which they traversed and walked about two kilometres to ‘Ayn at-Tine, Dr. Saadeh said.
The local defenders remained until after the last civilian who wanted to leave had left.
On a street below, near the main square, a man and some children collected water from a spring. It was at that spring on September 17, 2013, that 65-year-old farmer Zaki Tabib was shot in his head by a terrorist sniper. Tabib was one of about fifteen mostly-elderly villagers who had refused to evacuate a week earlier.
Abdo Haddad, also one of Tabib’s nephews, commented on the stoicness of his uncle and men like him: ‘These old men are so pure in their heart that they don’t believe someone in their village would kill them.’”
Left bleeding on the street, Tabib was dead by the time his two courageous nephews braved a torrent of sniper fire to retrieve his body, in order to give him a proper burial.
… Piles of rubble lay at many corners, and gaping holes in some walls remained evidence of the near total damage to the old part of the village. Although official estimates were that 80 percent of the homes were damaged, Abdo Haddad pointed out that “damage” in most cases means missing entire walls, and that in fact every house in the old quarter suffered damage, from mild to entire.
Many homes were boobytrapped by terrorists, to further kill and destroy. ‘They rigged houses so that when someone opened the door, an electrical trigger with a small charge would detonate and explode a gas canister,’ Haddad explained, saying that they could not count the number of rigged houses, maybe tens, maybe more: ‘The whole village was on fire. For the safety of the soldiers, in many cases the army had to blow the booby trap instead of defusing it.”
The church walls and dome roof of St. Thekla convent remained blackened with soot from the fires terrorists lit within. Local stonemasons stood on scaffolding, patiently rebuilding the thick walls in the traditional manner. Up the long staircase above the convent, the tomb in the cliffside grotto remained sooty black but was tidied up, with a few of the icons returned until complete restoration is possible. Other icons will never be returned — destroyed or stolen by the terrorist bandits, which occupied the convent….”
Positive news, from 2018:
“…Upon my return to Maaloula on September 13, 2018, I stood on Abdo Haddad’s balcony looking out upon one of the town’s historic mountains. It was from these mountaintops that terrorists rolled explosive-stuffed tires onto the simple homes below. It was from these mountaintops that terrorist snipers killed Zaki Tabib.
On September 13, those mountaintops were adorned with the traditional brightly-lit crosses of the Festival of the Cross.
I attended mass in Maaloula’s Catholic church. The rituals of countless years continue, as do the devotion of Maaloula’s residents, with both clergy and congregation singing the mournful lyrics sung for centuries. This is the culture that Western-backed fanatics attempted to destroy.
Immediately following the mass, the congregation quickly exited into the church square. By the time I arrived at the door, the exit was nearly impassable as so many people had amassed in the square. Pushing through, I saw the cause of the crowd: raised on the shoulders of residents, two men sang songs traditional to the Festival of the Cross, swigging frequently from plastic bottles of Arak in their hands. The crowd periodically cheered at their words, and eventually moved — cheering, singing — to the main square.
By the time I made it to the main square, it was likewise completely full of celebrants, many swigging Arak, cheering, singing traditional songs, and praising their army and president. Mini-Syrian flags abounded, as did people on balconies to watch the festive chaos. This went on for over an hour before crowds started moving up the mountains. Later, down in the town square, they were dancing.
When I later made this arduous hike up often-challenging mountainside, it was nearing sunset. Strong, young Maaloula men were stationed at more difficult points of the mountain trail, pulling people up when necessary.
One such young man joined me to help me navigate the path, sometimes leading me down steep inclines on shortcuts to the top.
Reaching the top in darkness, the glare of multiple crosses and the blazing bonfire was enough illumination to see masses of people, mostly young but also elderly and families, standing and sitting perilously close to the mountain edge, overlooking the glowing village below.
Periodically, a burst of whirling light burst out, as people in the town square far below spun fire. Throughout the night, crowds sat drumming, singing, and watching the bonfire.
I asked Abdo Haddad to summarize the importance of the Festival of the Cross. He said (video):
Tonight we are celebrating the finding of the cross that happened 1700 years ago. This celebration is represented by putting fire on top of the mountains, from Jerusalem to Constantinople, to tell the people in Constantinople that the cross was found.
Maaloula is the only place in the world that is still celebrating this custom.
The only time that this custom stopped is when the so-called rebels and other “revolution” people in Syria invaded Maaloula, and instead of putting fire on top of the mountain, they put our houses on fire. But since we are sons and daughters of life, we kept on celebrating it since Maaloula was liberated by the Syrian army in 2014.
So we celebrate life now, and we celebrate the cross.
We were born here 3,000 years ago and we’ll keep existing until the end of time.”
In 2016, Syria’s First Lady, Mrs. Asma al-Assad, was interviewed by Russia 24. During that interview, she spoke of the struggles Syria has faced during its ancient existence. Particularly poignant, and fitting to end with, were these words:
Syria comprises of land that has been continuously inhabited for a very long time. Over thousands of years, this soil has been exposed to dozens of wars and invasions. Some areas were completely destroyed. I know that Syria can and will rebuild itself. … As Syrians, we’ve always prevailed and this period in our history is no different. It is known or often said that Syria means ‘rising sun.’ And Syrians will rise again, that I can assure you.”
MORE PHOTOS FROM 2018 VISIT HERE: