BEIRUT Dec 11 An attack on a Syrian village on
Tuesday killed or injured as many as 200 members of President
Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority sect, activists said, but it
was unclear who was behind the assault.
Casualty counts varied, but several activists said they
could confirm 10 dead. The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said 125 were hurt or killed in a series of
explosions that destroyed several houses in the town of Aqrab.
There were no reports on Syria's state media.
The circumstances of the attacks were unclear and impossible
to verify independently. Syrian authorities tightly restrict the
activities of journalists. The incident is the first known
report of any large scale attack on Alawites in the 20-month-old
An Alawite resident from the nearby town of Masyaf in
western Syria blamed the attack on rebels from the town of
Houla, who he said had sparked clashes with pro-Assad militiamen
known as shabbiha.
Houla, about 8 km (5 miles) from Aqrab, suffered a massacre
of more than 100 Sunnis last May, in which more than half of the
victims were children.
"We don't believe there was a massacre (in Aqrab) but we
think there were a number of hostages being held by the rebels.
Clashes began when rebels started shelling a shabbiha
checkpoint," he said by Skype. "Now the phone lines seem to be
down in Aqrab so that's all we know."
Others in the opposition blamed Assad's forces for the
attack, which they said involved the shelling of a house in
which at least 200 Alawites were hiding.
A rebel who spoke to Reuters by telephone said fighters had
clashed for four days with the army in Aqrab, some 30 km (20
miles) north of Syria's third city of Homs. Rebels had
surrounded one building and accused pro-Assad militias, known as
shabbiha, of using residents hiding there as human shields.
"There were 200 people inside and we called on the residents
to leave, but the shabbiha held some women and children by
gunpoint. Eventually talks fell apart and the government shelled
the building," said the rebel, who called himself Maysar.
Syria's Sunni Muslim majority has mostly led the uprising
against Assad, and that has caused friction with minorities such
as the Alawites, who have largely stood by the president.
With the circumstances of the attack still murky, it risks
sparking a fresh wave of sectarian bloodshed in the region of
Syria where three massacres of Sunnis were reported in the past
year. There have been many reports of kidnappings and revenge
killings between Sunnis and Alawites in the region.
Wounded children, apparently Alawites from Aqrab, appeared
at an opposition field hospital in the town of al-Houla, where
they were interviewed by rebels in videos published on YouTube.
The three young boys interviewed said they and at least 200
other people had been hiding with shabbiha, but did not say if
they were hiding from government shelling or rebel attack.
"We were inside the house with shabbiha, they said they were
protecting us from the rebels. The rebels started telling us
come out, no one will hurt you," said Mohamed Judl, a young boy
covered in a blanket, shivering as he was interviewed by an
activist at the clinic. "The shabbiha wouldn't let us leave."