By Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor, Maaloula
Government forces are in Maaloula, but there is still fighting going on. I’ve heard a lot of heavy fire and one or two large explosions as well. Their opponents from the al-Nusra Front – the armed rebel group that is allied with al-Qaeda – appear to still be in the town. I’ve seen about half a dozen wounded government soldiers driven back at speed towards their rear echelon.
I’ve spoken to some local members of the National Defence Forces, a pro-government militia. They say they are fighting for their town and the fact it was a place where Christians and Muslims once lived side by side. They say they are fighting against the people they regard as terrorists.
The town’s residents fled in a hurry to Damascus when the rebels first moved in. They are very upset and angry about what happened. Some told me that when they left, the al-Nusra Front desecrated some of their churches. There is quite a bit of damage to the town, but I can’t see considerable damage to the holy places. In fact, I can see a big statue of the Virgin Mary that is very much intact.