Middle East

Syria opposition denounces Banias 'large-scale massacre'

This citizen journalist image released on Thursday May 2, 2013, provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers loyal to Bashar Assad, seen in the background, standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village, in the mountains outside the coastal city of Banias, Syria. (AP Photo/The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad)

BEIRUT: The Syrian opposition blamed the government Friday for what it called a “massacre” a day earlier in the coastal Sunni town of Baida which killed at least 51 people, activists said.

In a statement from the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition said that at least 150 people, including women and children, were killed in Thursday’s violence, which saw regime troops swoop into the city, in an effort to crack down on “terrorists,” according to state media.

“Reports now confirm a large-scale massacre in the city ... [and] that Assad forces were directly involved in the execution and burning of at least 150 people, including women and children. Witnesses of the crime report that Assad’s gangs used knives to murder many innocent victims,” the group’s statement said.

The coalition again accused the international community of “remaining idle” in the face of such violence, and urged “the world to intervene and put an end to the grievous crimes of the Assad regime.”

“Assad’s actions, according to all international legal definitions and customs, constitute war crimes and crimes of genocide,” it added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activists network, told The Daily Star Friday that it had confirmed the names of 51 people who were killed in Thursday’s violence, including eight women. On Thursday the center’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman, said that the number was expected to rise, and highlighted the regime-enforced internet and telephone blackout in the city, which was making updated death tolls hard to verify.

The Observatory said that of the dead, reports indicated they had been killed by knives, blunt objects and burning and that dozens of people were still missing.

On Friday, regime soldiers and shabbiha raided houses in the southern neighborhoods of nearby Banias, according to the Observatory, and some Internally Displaced People and the owners of the houses in which they were staying were detained for interrogation, it added.

“The Observatory fears that another sectarian massacre would talk place in these neighborhoods due to the intensity and nature of the conflict,” it added.

In Baida itself Friday, after withdrawing from the town, and burning down houses, the regime had begun shelling the town from the air, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activists network.

Syrian state media reported Friday that the army had “seized two weapons' warehouses in a raid against terrorists' dens in Baida village in Banias, Tartous,” and that “units of the army killed numbers of terrorists.”

Videos circulated online show dozens of heavily wounded bodies lying in the streets, some holding on to each other, which activists said were victims of the attack on Baida. The Daily Star was not able to independently verify the footage.

Elsewhere Friday, regime forces continued to shell areas across the country, including the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Idlib, Hama, Homs. On Thursday, government forces reclaimed the area of Wadi al-Sayeh in the latter city, separating two rebel-held neighborhoods.

In Aleppo Friday, residents set off on a peaceful demonstration from the Marjeh neighborhood to protest against the “Baida massacre and the silence of the international community,” the LCC reported.

Also Friday, rebels fired on Damascus Airport, according to state media.

One rocket hit an aircraft and another a fuel dump, sparking a massive fire, the official SANA news agency reported.

"One rocket hit a kerosene tank and the other hit a parked commercial aircraft, badly damaging it," the agency said, adding that traffic at the facility was "normal" and the fire had been extinguished. -- With agencies





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