Exodus from Syrian city after alleged massacre


CAIRO, Egypt — Hundreds of people were reportedly fleeing a coastal area in northwest Syria on Saturday, in the wake of an alleged massacre by government forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the exodus from the city of Baniyas after alleged execution-style killings in Ras al-Naba district.

The opposition watchdog said it had documented the names of at least 62 civilians, including 14 children, killed in the purported massacre.

The organization quoted unnamed sources as saying state security personnel were verifying the identities of those fleeing at checkpoints and prevented some from leaving.

Baniyas is also located near the Sunni Muslim village of al-Bayda, where the opposition said troops had killed at least 100 people on Thursday.

Syria’s state-run media said the army was carrying out an operation in the area to cleanse it of what it called “terrorists.”

Damascus has repeatedly branded as “terrorists” the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition activists have reported a clampdown by troops, backed by paramilitaries from Syria’s Alawite minority, on the mostly Sunni areas in Baniyas over the past two days.

Sunnis are thought to make up the majority of rebel forces fighting troops loyal to al-Assad, who is an Alawite.

Students in Damascus blocked several roads to protest the Baniyas killings, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya reported, quoting opposition activists.

The protesters also pasted on walls pictures of al-Assad covered in red, the broadcaster said.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused the regime of pursuing “ethnic cleaning” in the rebel-held areas.

The coalition called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to declare “these crimes acts of genocide” and bring those responsible to justice.

Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified as authorities have imposed curbs on the media since the uprising against al-Assad’s government began in March 2011.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes inside Syria on Friday.

The primary target of the hits was thought to be a shipment of sophisticated weapons, which were bound for the militant Lebanese movement Hezbollah, the unnamed officials told broadcaster NBC News.

A senior U.S. official said the airstrikes were believed to be related to delivery systems for chemical weapons, NBC News said.

There has been no official confirmation from Israel.

In January, Israeli jets were reported to have targeted a convoy of weapons in Syria believed to be destined for Hezbollah.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal — estimated at more than 1,000 metric tons — falling into the hands of Islamist militants.