BEIRUT/AMMAN – A Syrian pro-regime militia killed 13 members of the same family, including six children, in the village of Bayda on the Mediterranean coast, a watchdog said Sunday.
“The number of people from one family who were killed by regime forces in the village of Bayda . . . has risen to 13,” the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The killings came to light one day after they occurred while fierce clashes pitting rebels against troops raged in nearby Banias, in the coastal province of Tartus, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
“The three men, unarmed, were shot dead outside their home. The militiamen then broke in, and killed the women and the children,” observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman said.
He did not know how the women and children were killed by what he said were members of the pro-regime National Defence Force. “We have conflicting reports. Some say they were shot dead, others that they were burnt alive,” he said.
The village is predominantly Sunni but is located in the Alawite ancestral heartland. It was the site of a mass killing in May.
Also Sunday, government troops fired mortar rounds that slammed into a main market in a town in northern Syria, killing at least 20 civilians, activist groups said.
The shells struck the town of Ariha, which is held mostly by opposition fighters, a few hours ahead of “iftar,” the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another opposition group tracking the violence in Syria, said at least 20 people were killed, including two children and two women. It was not immediately clear what triggered the shelling.
Elsewhere, the Observatory said government troops have killed at least 75 rebels over 24 hours in battles for control of the capital, Damascus.
The death toll reported on Monday included 49 rebels killed in an ambush in Damascus’ northeastern suburb of Adra early Sunday. The group says an elite unit loyal to President Bashar Assad ambushed the rebels as they were trying to push into the city.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported the ambush Sunday, without giving a casualty figure.
The Observatory reported that another 17 rebels died in fighting Sunday in central Damascus, while another nine were killed in its suburbs.
It was one of the deadliest days for the opposition in the 2-year-old conflict, which has killed 93,000 people.
Separately, Syrian state television claimed that a pro-government group hacked into two social messaging networks and seized records of local users. That could expose Syrian rebels and other activists who depend on the networks to publicize army crackdowns on their hometowns and communicate with each other. Many telephone land lines and cellphones in Syria are assumed to be tapped.
State TV said the social networking site Tango was hacked on Sunday by the Syrian Electronic Army, a shadowy group that supports Assad’s regime.
Tango confirmed in a statement that it had experienced “cyberintrusion that resulted in a brief, unauthorized access to some data on Friday. Increased security protocols are now in place.”
Syrian media said another network, Truecaller, was also hacked last week.