Nuns are returning to the Orthodox Monastery of St. Tekla which was severely damaged in Syria's civil war. (Photo: Sergio & Gabriella via Flickr; CC 2.0)
Nuns are returning to the now-restored Orthodox Monastery of St. Tekla, which was severely damaged during the early years of Syria’s ongoing civil war. (Photo: Sergio & Gabriella via Flickr; CC 2.0)

A monastery in Syria, which was freed from occupation by rebel forces in 2014, is to re-open its doors to pilgrims and visitors following its restoration, reports Catholic news agency Fides.

Some of the nuns have already started to return to the Orthodox Monastery of St. Tekla in the historic Christian town of Maaloula, 55km northeast of Syria’s capital Damascus, Fides cited Russian media as saying.

Rebel groups opposed to the government took the town, which is strategically located between Damascus and Homs, in 2013.

In December that year militants, allegedly belonging to the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, kidnapped 12 of the nuns from the monastery.

The women were released in Lebanon three months later (March 2014) and two Syrians were later charged with taking part in the kidnapping.

Ancient icons

Residents of Maaloula have slowly started to return to their town, which experienced severe fighting between government troops and rebel forces.

As World Watch Monitor reported, there has been a growing appreciation within the Western world that rebel forces contain numerous militant Islamists, and a fear that Christianity could be wiped out in Syria.

However, British vicar Andrew Ashdown, who has visited Syria regularly since 2014, warned in June that much of the damage done to ancient Christian communities like Maaloula had been done by forces backed by Western governments.

A fifth-century church, which had been a seat of Christian learning before the war, was “smashed and desecrated by the rebels that our government supports”, he said. And although the church has been restored, he said its ancient icons have been stolen.