Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Assad gunmen blamed for 'massacre'

Syrian refugees carry their belongings in Jordan (AP)

President Bashar Assad's regime has committed a "large-scale massacre" in a Sunni village near the Mediterranean coast, killing at least 50 people, according to activists.

Syrian troops backed by pro-government gunmen swept into Bayda, a village in the mountains outside the city of Banias, and killed men, women and children and torched homes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory documented the names of at least 50 dead, but said as many as 100 might have been killed. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, cited witnesses as saying that some of the victims were killed with knives or blunt objects and that dozens of villagers were missing.

In a statement, the opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, said: "Reports now confirm a large-scale massacre in Bayda. Initial reports confirm that Assad's forces were directly involved" in the violence in the area.

"It is time for the world to intervene and put an end to the grievous crimes of the Assad regime," the Cairo-based opposition group said, urging the international community to act and protect Syrian civilians.

In a video that the Observatory sent to the media, at least seven men and boys wearing civilian clothes are seen lying in pools of blood in front of a house. The caption on the video says "the first images of executions in Bayda." The video appears genuine and consistent with reporting by The Associated Press from the area.

The Syrian troops were still in Bayda village today, conducting house to house searches, said Rami Abdul Rahman, the Observatory's director. He added that phone and internet service to the village was cut and the area remained under regime control, making it impossible to verify the final death toll.

The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, started as peaceful protests against Mr Assad's rule in March 2011. It turned into armed conflict between the opposition and the government after some opposition supporters took up weapons to fight a harsh regime crackdown on dissent and soon became a full-scale civil war.

More than 70,000 people have been killed so far in the conflict, according to the United Nations. More than one million Syrians have fled their homes and sought shelter in neighbouring countries.

Syrian state media did not report on the events in the village in its daily roundup of army activities around the country. The country's official news agency SANA said the army has continued "crackdown on terrorists groups" .

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