Syrian Alawite village attacked, rebels fight around capital

Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:06pm EST
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By Erika Solomon and Mariam Karouny

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Up to 200 members of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority were injured or killed in an attack on their central Syrian village on Tuesday, activists said, while to the south rebels and state forces battled for the outskirts of Damascus.

With a broad grouping of governments opposed to Assad meeting in Morocco on Wednesday, an official in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood criticized the United States for designating an Islamist rebel group as a terrorist organization, meaning it would get no American help in the fight against Assad.

Casualty counts varied for the attack on the village of Aqrab in Hama province, but several activists said they could confirm 10 dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the casualties came during a series of explosions in the town.

Opposition activists posted videos on YouTube in which survivors said pro-Assad militias had used children as human shields in the village. However, the accounts could not be independently verified and the events remained unclear.

Syria's upheaval, which began as a protest movement against Assad 20 months ago, has turned into a civil war which has now has killed more than 40,000 people. Majority Sunni Muslims have mostly led the revolt against Assad while minorities such as the Alawites, from an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have largely stood by the president.

Sectarian bloodshed has previously hit both Hama province, where Aqrab is located, and neighboring Homs province. Both witnessed massacres of hundreds of Sunni residents but Tuesday's incident, if confirmed, would be the first known large-scale attack on Alawites.

The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 125 had been hurt or killed but said it was still trying to find out what happened. There were no reports on Syria's state media.

An Alawite resident of a nearby village said the violence began in Aqrab when rebels attacked a checkpoint run by pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabbiha.   Continued...

Syrian refugees warm themselves by a fire at a refugee camp in Atimeh, on the Syrian-Turkish border of the Idlib Governorate December 10, 2012. Picture taken December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof