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Its historic churches pillaged by jihadis and buildings riddled with shrapnel, this ancient Christian town north of Damascus still bears the scars of the fierce fighting that devastated it two years ago.International journalists on a trip to Syria organized by the Russian government on Thursday visited Maaloula, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Damascus.Although heavily armed Syrian soldiers could be seen patrolling the town, the relative peace in Maaloula contrasts sharply with other areas on the outskirts of Damascus where intense fighting continues to rage. At St. Takla Convent, a Greek Orthodox monastery that dates back to the early centuries of Christianity, the dome and walls of the church were gutted by fire, its frescoes damaged by bullets and its windows broken.More than a million people, mostly Syrians fleeing a vicious five-year civil war, fled to the European Union in 2015 .Only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans were permitted to pass.It didn't take more than a day or two for the refugee camp on the Greek side of the border, with a capacity of about 2,000, to overflow. Another monastery, the Greek Catholic St. Sergius, known locally as Mar Sarkis, which sits atop a steep mountain towering over the town, was also vandalized and its rare icons, among the oldest in the world, were stolen.
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