Rebels killed dozens of Shiites: Activists

Rebels killed dozens of Shiites: Activists

BEIRUT - The Associated Press
Syrian rebels have attacked a village in the country’s east, killing dozens of Shiites, mostly pro-government fighters, activists said yesterday. A Syrian government official denounced the attack, saying it was a “massacre” of civilians.

The killings, which took place on June 11 in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province, highlight the sectarian nature of Syria’s conflict that has killed more than 80,000 people, according to the U.N. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 60 people were killed in the village of Hatla in the oil-rich province that borders Iraq.

Thousands of rebels took part in the attack and at least 10 of them were killed in the fighting, said the Observatory.

 In Damascus, a government official said the rebels “carried out a massacre against villagers in which older people and children were killed.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

 The fighting in Deir ez-Zor came a week after Syrian troops, backed by Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah group, captured the strategic town of Qusayr near the Lebanese.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Qusayr battle underlined the group’s commitment in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and edged the civil war in Syria closer to a regional sectarian conflict pitting the Middle East’s Iranian-backed Shiite axis against Sunnis.

An activist based in Deir ez-Zor said the rebel attack was in retaliation for an attack on June 10 by Shiites from Hatla that killed four rebels.

Thaer al-Deiry, who identified himself only by his nickname for fear of government retaliation, said via Skype that rebels gathered and launched a counter attack a day after. He said some 150 Shiites from the village fled across the Euphrates River to the government-held village of Jafra.