A series of explosions in the Syrian village of Aqrab has left at least 125 people dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. Those killed come from the Alawite minority, which is loyal to the country’s President Bashar Assad.
Conflicting reports on what happened have emerged, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The first version says 10 pro-regime gunmen were barricaded in residential buildings, along with 150 civilians of Alawite origin. A delegation sent inside to negotiate the removal of civilians from the buildings were then barred from leaving. The standoff was followed by clashes between pro-government militia and rebel fighters, with the detonation of explosives resulting in casualties. The second version of the events focuses on a string of blasts that took place near the homes of Alawites in the village. A third version entails pro-Assad forces holding Alawite civilians hostage in a building. When opposition fighters reportedly attempted to free them, explosions ensued, leading to up to 150 deaths.
An Alawite resident from the nearby area in western Syria blamed the assault on rebels from the town of Houla. He told Daily Star that violence started when the rebel forces started clashing with pro-Assad militiamen known as Shabiha.
A video posted on YouTube by Syrian activists blamed the “terrible massacre” on the Shabiha. Unverified footing shows a man interviewing injured children and saying that the government militiamen used Alawi civilians as hostages, threatening to blow everyone up if the free army gets inside the building they were kept in.
“We were inside the building when the Shabihas came to us and said they are here to protect us from the free army. The rebels started asking us to leave the building and told us they will not hurt us. The Shabiha did not allow us to leave the building. They have also killed my father, my mother and my brother,” a child from the video said.
The unidentified man in the video also called for the Red Cross to come and question the civilians, who are now allegedly being protected by the Free Syrian Army.
“We don’t believe there was a massacre [in Aqrab] but we think there were a number of hostages being held by the rebels. Clashes began when rebels started shelling a Shabbiha checkpoint,” he told Daily Star by Skype. “Now the phone lines seem to be down in Aqrab so that’s all we know.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the UN to form an independent investigation committee, to look into what occurred in the town of Aqrab.
Hours later, another blast shook the Syrian capital Damascus, leaving one dead and several injured.
In May, a similar assault in Houla left over 100 people killed, many of them children.
The violence comes shortly after US President Barack Obama granted recognition to a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The move is intended to ratchet up pressure on Assad in a bid to oust him from power.