BEIRUT (Reuters) - A video posted on the Internet shows Sunni Muslim rebels burning a Shi‘ite mosque in north Syria - a sign that the country’s civil war is spiraling into a sectarian conflict.
Dozens of fighters dressed in camouflage gear with Sunni-style beards are shown in the footage congratulating and kissing each other outside the burning Shi‘ite ‘Husseiniya’ mosque. They also burned flags they said were Shi‘ite.
A fighter holding a rifle says the rebel group is destroying the “dens of the Shi‘ites and Rafida,” a derogatory term meaning “deserters,” which is used against Shi‘ites.
Reuters could not independently verify the video, which was posted on YouTube on Wednesday and purports to be filmed in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur.
Syria’s revolt, like its population, is majority Sunni. President Bashar al-Assad and his late father President Hafez al-Assad are from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam, that has dominated power since the 1960s.
Minority groups fear an Islamist takeover and many Christians, Shi‘ites and Kurds are reluctant to support an armed revolt that included several Sunni extremist rebel units.
Syrians took up arms against authorities after attacks by Assad’s security forces on protests that called for a democratic Syria. Since March 2011, 40,000 people have been killed.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Angus MacSwan