BEIRUT- Islamist fighters in Syria have taken over the ancient quarter of the Christian town of Maaloula and are holding several nuns in a monastery there, state news agency SANA said on Monday.
Fighting for the town, about five km (three miles) from the main road linking Damascus to Homs, is part of a wider struggle between rebel fighters and President Bashar Assad's forces for control of the strategic central Syrian highway.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had captured the old quarter of Maaloula after several days of fighting.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said he could not confirm the SANA report that Nusra fighters had stormed the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla and were holding several nuns captive.
But the monastery is in the old part of Maaloula, which is now under the control of the Nusra Front and other rebels, he said.