Syria's main opposition group is accusing government troops of deploying heavy weapons inside a historic Orthodox monastery north of Damascus.

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said in a statement Saturday that President Bashar Assad's army has turned the Cherubim Monastery into a base. From there, they say, troops shell surrounding villages predominantly populated by Sunni Muslims, who dominate rebel ranks.

There was no way to independently confirm the information. Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Previous rebel attacks on government-held Christian villages, particularly by hard-line Islamic militant groups, often lead to allegations that the attackers have vandalized churches or targeted residents. But rebels say some Christian villages have been used as artillery positions.

Christians tend to back Assad, who comes from a Shiite offshoot sect, in Syria's increasingly sectarian war.