Forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad swept through a farming village in central Syria, torching houses and shooting and stabbing residents, killing up to 106 people, opposition activists claimed yesterday.
The assault on Haswiyeh outside the city of Homs happened on Tuesday, but was only disclosed yesterday as the scale of the massacre emerged.
The attacks appeared to have sectarian motives and resemble an incident last May in the nearby village of Houla in which 108 people were killed.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some of the dead in Haswiyeh were “burnt inside their homes while other were killed with knives” and other weapons. It said there were reports that “whole families were executed, one with 32 members”.
Youssef al-Homsi, an activist based in Homs, said at least 100 people were killed in Haswiyeh.
It was not possible to confirm the activist reports because of reporting restrictions in Syria.
A government official in Damascus flatly denied the reports of carnage, saying no such killings took place at all. He said: “The army protects civilians and their properties.”
He also accused rebels of using civilians as “human shields”.
However, the pro-government daily Al-Watan reported that Syrian troops advanced in the countryside of Homs “cleansing the villages of Haswiyeh and Dweir as well as their fields” of gunmen.
Rebels and government troops are known to have clashed around Haswiyeh earlier this week. Rebels still control several districts of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, as well as other areas in the region.
The city and surrounding countryside have been hit by heavy fighting since shortly after civil strife began in March 2011. The United Nations has said at least 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war so far.
The Observatory and Mr al-Homsi said all of the dead appeared to be Sunni Muslims, suggesting that the killings were sectarian. Mr al-Homsi also said locals reported many of the attackers came from the nearby village of Mazraa, which he said is predominantly Shiite.
Sunnis make up most of Syria’s 23 million people, while Mr Assad and most of his regime belong to the minority Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.
The opposition accuses Alawite militia loyal to Mr Assad of trying to carve out a breakaway enclave for themselves by driving out local Sunnis, killing families and threatening anyone who stays behind. They say killings in Sunni villages close to Alawite communities are meant to lay the groundwork for this.
An amateur video posted online showed five women surround by children as they sat on the floor describing what happened in Haswiyeh.
“They entered homes, slaughtered women and children then burnt them,” said one of the veiled women holding a young boy. “They slaughtered members of the same families then turned the diesel heaters on them.”
“We did not fight and we had no gunmen. We are all workers trying to make a living,” she said angrily. She added that some homes were ransacked by soldiers looking for money .
Another video showed a burnt room with what appeared to be two charred bodies on the floor. A man could be heard weeping in the background. The caption said the video was from Haswiyeh. The videos appeared to be genuine.
Activists reported violence in different parts of Syria yesterday including fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus. The Observatory also reported air raids in the capital’s suburbs, which have witnessed heavy clashes between troops and rebels in recent weeks.