Syria's Assad Pays Easter Visit to Recaptured Christian Town, by Firas Makdesi, SRN News
"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited an ancient Christian town recaptured from rebels last week, state media said, as he seeks to persuade minorities that the government is their best protection against hardline Islamists.
"Assad’s Easter visit to Maaloula – a rare appearance outside central Damascus – also highlighted growing government confidence in recent gains against insurgents around the capital and along the Lebanese border.
"Islamist fighters, including some from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, had taken over part of Maaloula in December and held several nuns captive until releasing them in March in a prisoner-exchange deal.
"On Monday, government forces retook the town, which is roughly 60 km (40 miles) north of Damascus and has changed hands multiple times, the latest in a series of advances against rebels in the Qalamoun mountains region.
"During his visit, Assad inspected Mar Sarkis – a Greek Orthodox monastery dating to the fourth century – and damage caused “at the hands of terrorists,” state news agency SANA said, using the government’s customary term for the rebels."