Entire families have been burnt or hacked to death in a farming village in Syria, activists have reported, in a grim manifestation of the sectarian hatred within the country.
Syrian opposition sources from Homs said loyalist militiamen backed by government troops swept through Haswiyeh just north of the city, setting fire to houses and slashing victims to death with knives. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the British-based opposition group, said "whole families were executed", with one losing up to 32 members, including women and children.
Youssef al-Homsi, an activist based in Homs, sent the Associated Press a list of 100 names of people said to have been killed in Tuesday's attack, including 15 women and 10 children. The reports have not been independently verified.
A government official in Damascus rejected any regime role in the alleged killings, and said "the army protects civilians and their properties".
The area around Haswiyeh was the scene of heavy fighting earlier this week between troops and rebels.
Waleed al-Fares, an activist in the area, said that most of the victims were Sunnis and that many of the attackers came from the nearby village of Mazraa, which he said was predominantly Shia. Homs province is home to the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam and Christian minority groups.
President Bashar al-Assad (pictured) is an Alawite and the sect has tended to side with his government against the Sunni majority-led rebel opposition. In almost two years of fighting, the political disagreements between them have degenerated into sectarian hatred.
Haswiyeh is not far from the region of Houla, where 108 people were killed over two days last May. The UN described the Houla killings as a war crime perpetrated by regime forces and militia.
In recent weeks observers have reported a sharp increase in the number of sectarian killings during the past month, and in the brutality of the methods used. (© Daily Telegraph, London)