orces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad swept through a small farming village in central Syria this week, torching houses and shooting and stabbing residents in an attack that killed up to 106 people, including women and children, activists said Thursday.
The assault on Haswiyeh, outside the city of Homs, took place Tuesday, activists said, but was coming to light only two days later. The attacks appeared to be sectarian in nature and resembled the attack in May on the nearby village of Houla that killed 108 people and drew international condemnation of the Assad regime.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll in Haswiyeh at 106 and said some of the dead were “burnt inside their homes while other were killed with knives” and other weapons. It also cited reports that “whole families were executed, one of them made up of 32 members.”
Youssef al-Homsi, an activist based in Homs, also said at least 100 people were killed in Haswiyeh, sending via Skype a list of 100 names of reported victims.
Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees activist group put the death toll at 37 but said that the figure was from Wednesday and that more bodies had been found since then.
It was not possible to confirm the activist accounts because of severe reporting restrictions in Syria.
A government official in Damascus flatly denied the reports of carnage, saying no such killings took place in the area. He said “the army protects civilians and their properties” and accused rebels of using civilians as “human shields.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
However, the pro-government daily al-Watan reported Thursday that Syrian troops had advanced in the countryside of Homs, “cleansing the villages of Haswiyeh and Dweir as well as their fields” of gunmen. It did not elaborate.
Rebels and government troops are known to have clashed in the area around Haswiyeh this week.
The observatory and Homsi said all of the dead in Haswiyeh appeared to be Sunni Muslims. Homsi also said residents reported that many of the attackers came from the nearby village of Mazraa, which he said is predominantly Shiite.
Sunnis make the majority of Syria’s 23 million people, while Assad and most of his top officials belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.