Ac­tivists say As­sad forces kill 16 af­ter re­tak­ing strong­hold

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT | Syr­ian ac­tivists said Mon­day that pro-gov­ern­ment gun­men killed at least 16 peo­ple — in­clud­ing chil­dren — in a rebel strong­hold re­cap­tured by the gov­ern­ment in the em­bat­tled city of Homs, fu­el­ing con­cerns the gov­ern­ment is car­ry­ing out reprisals in ter­ri­tory it has cap­tured.

State me­dia in Da­m­as­cus, which of­ten ig­nores ac­tivists’ claims, con­firmed killings in Homs but blamed “armed ter­ror­ists” as it fre­quently calls those be­hind the up­ris­ing.

Fresh from stamp­ing out rebel cen­ters of re­sis­tance in Homs, gov­ern­ment forces are press­ing on with new of­fen­sives in other parts of cen­tral and north­ern Syria.

The re­ports of the killings add to con­cerns that the hun­dreds of civil­ian deaths caused by the fight­ing will be com­pounded by reprisals against op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers in the re­cap­tured towns and neigh­bor­hoods.

The re­ports add to the pres­sure on U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers who are meet­ing to de­cide what to do next to stop the vi­o­lence. A peace­mak­ing mis­sion by U.N. en­voy Kofi An­nan fal­tered with both gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion re­fus­ing to talk to one an­other. The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said at least 16 peo­ple were killed Sun­day night, while the Lo­cal Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tees said 45 were “mur­dered.” Both groups said chil­dren were among the dead.

They ac­cused “shabiha,” gun­men akin to a mili­tia who ba­si­cally do the gov­ern­ment’s bid­ding and who have played a ma­jor role in crush­ing the year-old up­ris­ing, of car­ry­ing out the killings.

Homs is the Syr­ian city hard­est hit by vi­o­lence since the up­ris­ing against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s regime be­gan in March last year.

Sev­eral Homs neigh­bor­hoods, in­clud­ing Karm el-zey­toun, where Sun­day’s deaths oc­curred, were con­trolled by rebels and re­taken by gov­ern­ment forces ear­lier this month.

Karm el-zey­toun has wit­nessed in­tense anti-regime protests in the past months.

It is one of sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods in Homs that have large pop­u­la­tions of Alaw­ites — a Shi­ite off­shoot that dom­i­nates the Da­m­as­cus regime — and Sun­nis, who make up much of the op­po­si­tion against it.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said af­ter the killings many peo­ple fled Karm el- Zey­toun and other nearby neigh­bor­hoods, fear­ing pro-gov­ern­ment gun­men might carry out sim­i­lar at­tacks.

Syria’s state-run me­dia quoted an un­named of­fi­cial as say­ing that armed groups in some ar­eas in Homs are kid­nap­ping peo­ple, then killing and dis­fig­ur­ing them in or­der to bring in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion to the regime.

Mr. As­sad’s regime blames the up­ris­ing on armed groups and ter­ror­ists act­ing out a for­eign con­spir­acy.

But ac­tivist groups such as the Ob­ser­va­tory put the blame squarely on the gov­ern­ment. The Ob­ser­va­tory called on the U.N. to in­ves­ti­gate the deaths.

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