Syrian rebels take Christian town near Damascus

A picture shows Mar Takla Greek Orthodox monastery in the Syrian Christian town of Maalula on Sept. 7, 2013. Maalula is a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria, and many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ that only small, scattered communities around the world still use.

CAIRO, Egypt — The Syrian rebels took Maalula, a majority-Christian town located about 31 miles northwest of Damascus, after fighting with government forces, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday.

A total of 17 rebels were killed and more than 100 others wounded in the fighting on Saturday night, while government forces sustained dozens of casualties, the London-based group said.

Government forces reinforced their positions in Maalula last Thursday after a checkpoint was attacked a day earlier by a suicide bomber from the al-Nusra Front, a group linked to Al Qaeda.

The Syrian National Coalition, another opposition group, said Sunday that nearly 11,000 children have died since the conflict in the Middle Eastern country started.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, meanwhile, denied in an interview with CBS that he used chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack on the outskirts of Damascus.

US President Barack Obama has asked Congress for authorization to take military action against Syria to punish the Assad regime for allegedly killing 1,429 people in the chemical weapons attack.