Assad visits iconic Christian town: Syrian leader portrays himself as protector of Syrian Christians
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has visited the recent recaptured Christian town of Maaloula, highlighting his government's growing confidence in its three year civil war against Islamist insurgents. Photos uploaded to the presidency's social media pages show Assad inspecting damaged paintings and bibles inside a Greek Orthodox monastery and touring the nearby area. His rare appearance outside of the capital Damascus comes a week after the pro-government forces drove rebels out of the Maaloula. Islamist fighters had taken over part of the town in December and held several nuns captive until releasing them last month in a prisoner-exchange deal. The president's government has consistently tried to portray itself as the protector of the country's Christians, who account for about 10% of the population. Some of its inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.