Syrian army kills 100 people fleeing captured town: activists

AMMAN Sun Jun 9, 2013 7:54pm EDT

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 100 people who fled the town of Qusair after it was captured by army troops and fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah last week, opposition activists said on Sunday.

Most of the dead were hit by machinegun fire and a sustained bombardment over the past three days as they tried to cross a highway east of Qusair to areas beyond the reach of Assad's forces, the activists said.

The report could not be immediately verified as the Syrian authorities restrict access to independent media.

Activist Hadi al-Abdallah said he was one of several thousand people who fled Qusair, ending up among a group of civilians and fighters who abandoned their cars and walked 35 kms (20 miles) across farmland to an area known as the Husseiniya Groves, near the main highway to the central city of Homs.

"We were carrying lots of injured from Qusair and they were among the first to be killed because they could not escape the gunfire," Abdallah said.

"Most of the bodies were left behind and only 15 were retrieved. Many of the injured were captured. Among them a cousin of mine. I called his mobile phone and a man answered saying I can come pick (up) his body in pieces," he said.

Mohammad al-Qusairi, another activist, said the Syrian army deployed in three areas near the highway to target the people fleeing Qusair.

"A narrow escape corridor out of Qusair had remained but the army awaited at its end. It wanted to send a message that anyone with any link to the town will be punished," said Qusairi, who was speaking from the Turkish city of Antakya.

The capture of Qusair followed a heavy bombardment that destroyed much of the town. It restored a land link between Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon and pro-Assad forces dug into Damascus and in areas near the coast inhabited by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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