The historic Christian Syrian town of Maalula celebrated Saturday as a new statue of the Virgin Mary was erected in its centre, replacing the figure destroyed in rebel attacks in 2013. Dozens of families gathered alongside government officials and religious dignitaries in the main square, which was adorned with government flags and a giant portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Located north of Damascus, Maalula is one of the world’s oldest Christian settlements, and its inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. In April 2014, government troops backed by pro-regime militia recaptured the town from rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The fighting damaged the ancient Mar Sarkis monastery and forced the town’s 5,000 people to flee their homes and abandon their modest storefronts. On Saturday, Syrian officials unveiled

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