Beirut: Extremist Islamic rebels who overran a village in central Syria populated by the Alawite minority have killed at least 40 people, activists said today.
Half of the victims in yesterday's attack were civilians, including women, while the other half were village fighters defending their homes in Maan in the province of Hama, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian state media described the attack as a "massacre" perpetrated by terrorists, a term the government uses to describe rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
Extremist Sunni Islamic fighters have come to dominate the armed uprising against Assad, who is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.The raid on Maan is likely to bolster efforts by the government delegation to convey their narrative at the Geneva peace talks that the three-year uprising to overthrow Assad is dominated by al-Qaeda extremists. The extremists see Alawites as apostates who should be killed.
The reports of the Maan attack came as Syrian government and opposition delegates started a fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva. The first face-to-face meetings adjourned 10 days ago having achieved little beyond getting the warring sides into the same room.
Prospects for common ground appear unlikely as the two sides continue to disagree on the core issue of Assad's future. Fighting has escalated since the first round, with violence disrupting food distribution meant to ease the plight of civilians in the central city of Homs and near Damascus.
In the Maan attack, those slain included 11 men and women from one extended family, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Observatory. Abdurrahman said the Islamic fighters overran Maan after Alawite villagers lobbed mortar shells on the rebels using the nearby roads.
There have been heavy clashes for weeks between hard-line rebels and Assad loyalists in the nearby community of Morek, Abdurrahman said.
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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2014 18:14:14 IST