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Middle East

Assad regime accused of massacre of 50 Sunni villagers


Syria’s main opposition group has accused President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of committing a “large-scale massacre” in a Sunni village near the Mediterranean coast. Activists claim at least 50 people were killed with guns, knives and blunt objects.

The killings in Bayda reflect the sectarian overtones of the civil war. Tucked in the mountains outside the coastal town of Banias, the village is primarily inhabited by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the country’s rebel movement. But it is located in the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam that is the backbone of the regime.

In amateur video purportedly taken after the killings, the bodies of at least seven men and boys are seen strewn in pools of blood on the pavement in front of a house as women weep around them. The video appears genuine and consistent with reporting by the Associated Press from the area.

The war has largely split the country along sectarian lines, with the divide deepening over months of bloodshed. There has been heavy fighting in recent weeks between Sunnis and Shia over villages near the Lebanese border, while Islamic extremists in the rebel ranks have injected a radical fervour.

The regime has so far kept a relatively solid grip on the Alawite heartland, centred on the mountainous region along the coast. The area is dotted with Sunni villages, but they are surrounded by larger Alawite communities, so the anti-Assad revolt has had a harder time taking hold.

Early on Thursday, there was an eruption of fighting in Bayda, and then in the afternoon Syrian troops, backed by gunmen from nearby Alawite villages, swept into the village, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

They torched homes and used knives, guns and blunt objects to kill people in the streets, the group reported.