BEIRUT — Syrian government forces battled Tuesday with al-Qaida-linked rebels trying to capture an ancient Christian town north of Damascus, activists and the state media said.
The Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north of Damascus, rather than because it is Christian. But hard-liners among the rebels are hostile to the minority group, who tend to support the government of President Bashar Assad, and other al-Qaida-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have seized.
The assault on Sadad, some 60 miles north of Damascus, began at dawn Monday, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Local police fought back the initial assault and were reinforced by the army.