BEIRUT — The bodies of the Syrian boys and young men in jeans and casual shirts were strewn along a blood-stained pavement, dying apparently where they fell. Weeping women moved among the dead, and one of them screamed, “Where are you, people of the village?”
In the Syrian civil war’s latest alleged mass killing, activists said Friday that regime troops and gunmen from nearby Alawite areas beat, stabbed and shot at least 50 people in the Sunni Muslim village of Bayda.
The slayings highlighted in the starkest terms the sectarian overtones of a conflict that has already killed more than 70,000 people. Details of the killings came to light as the Obama administration said it was again weighing whether to arm the rebels.
Syria’s 2-year-old crisis has largely broken along sectarian lines: the Sunni majority forms the backbone of the rebellion, while President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, anchors the regime’s security services and military officer corps. Other minorities, such as Christians, largely support Assad or stand on the sidelines.
The killings in Bayda fall against this backdrop. Tucked in the mountains outside the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, the village is predominantly Sunni but is located in the Alawite ancestral heartland centered in the rugged region along the sea.
Activists say fighting broke out in Bayda early Thursday and that at least six government troops were killed. Syrian forces backed by Alawite gunmen known as shabiha from the surrounding area returned in the afternoon and stormed the village, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
If confirmed, the bloodshed in Bayda would be the latest in a series of alleged mass killings in the civil war. Last month, activists said government troops killed more than 100 people as they seized two rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.