Rebels seize control of village

AMMAN, Jordan – Syrian rebels led by al-Qaida-linked fighters seized control of a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus, sweeping into the mountainside sanctuary in heavy fighting overnight and forcing hundreds of residents to flee, activists and locals said Sunday.

The battle over Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, has thrown a spotlight on fears that many of Syria’s religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in the civil war against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

After days of clashes in and around Maaloula, rebels captured the village following fierce fighting late Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was led by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-affiliated group, as well as by the Qalamon Liberation Front.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar support strike

LONDON – The Obama administration picked up new international endorsements Sunday for a military strike against Syria.

After a meeting in Paris with Arab foreign ministers, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saudi Arabia backed “the strike” that President Obama is weighing to punish Syria for the August chemical attack he has said left more than 1,400 dead.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah, speaking at a news conference with Kerry, also called for foreign intervention “to protect the Syrian people.”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been among the leading arms suppliers to the Syrian rebels and have long backed unspecified direct foreign intervention in Syria.

Charlie Rose to air Assad interview

Television host Charlie Rose announced Sunday that he had interviewed Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

The interview will run Monday night on the “Charlie Rose” show on PBS.

“He denied that there was, in fact, a chemical attack,” Rose said over the phone on “Face the Nation.” “He said, ‘I can’t confirm or deny that we have chemical weapons.’ “

Rose said Assad suggested, as he has before, that the rebels had something to do with the attack. He also said he was preparing for a possible American military strike, and that there would be retaliation, although he declined to say what form that retaliation might take.

“He was calm and knew the situation he was in,” said Rose, adding that Assad is watching what is happening in Washington very closely.

Israel deploys missile defense

JERUSALEM – The Israeli military has deployed an “Iron Dome” missile defense battery in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Associated Press video footage showed the missile defense system positioned there Sunday afternoon. Even though Israel believes it unlikely that Syria will attack the Jewish state, it is making preparations just in case. It has deployed air defense systems, drafted a small amount of reserve soldiers and is handing out gas masks.

The “Iron Dome” system has shot down hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip at Israeli cities.

— From news service reports

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