Syrian state TV and opposition activists say government forces have ambushed members of an al-Qaida-linked group, killing dozens of them near a historic Christian village north of Damascus.

The TV says troops surprised fighters of the Nusra Front Friday at dawn near Maaloula, which the group along with other rebels captured in late November for the second time this year. Maaloula had previously been firmly in the government's grip despite being surrounded by rebel-held territory.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that dozens were killed, and that 20 were wounded.

Maaloula is on the edge of the rugged Qalamoun region, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of the capital, where the government has been on the offensive for weeks.