Assad's forces raid northern villages, kill 27

Opposition group calls killings a "massacre"; US hints at possibility of arming rebels; 2 western journalists killed in Homs.

February 22, 2012 11:35
2 minute read.
Military vehicle seen in Syria, Homs

Military vehicle seen in Syria, Homs_390. (photo credit: Reuters)

Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Assad chased, captured and then shot dead 27 young men in three northern villages, an opposition activists' group said on Wednesday.

The men, all civilians, were mostly shot in the head or chest on Tuesday in their homes or in streets in the villages of Idita, Iblin and Balshon in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

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"Military forces chased civilians in these villages, arrested them and killed them without hesitation. They concentrated on male youths and whoever did not manage to escape was to be killed," the organization said in a statement.

"Responsibility for this massacre lies with the general commander of the military and armed forces, Bashar Assad," the statement said, adding that only one youth survived the shootings.

YouTube videos said to have been taken by local activists in Idlib showed bodies of young men with bullet wounds lying in streets and in houses.

The raids came as the United States appeared to open the door to eventually arming the Syrian opposition, saying that if a political solution to the crisis was impossible it might have to consider other options.

The comments, made by officials at both the White House and the US State Department on Tuesday, marked a shift in emphasis by Washington, which so far has stressed a policy of not arming the opposition and has said little about alternatives.

"We still believe that a political solution is what's needed in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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"We don't want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria, because that could take the country down a dangerous path. But we don't rule out additional measures."

Asked if the United States was shifting its stance on arming the rebels, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington did not want to see the violence increase and was concentrating on political efforts to halt the bloodshed.

"That said ... if we can't get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures," she said, declining to elaborate.

Also on Wednesday, two Western journalists were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs when shells hit the house they were staying in, opposition activists and witnesses said.

They were named as Marie Colvin, an American working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photgrapher Remi Ochlik.

A witness told Reuters by phone that shells hit the house where the journalists were staying and a rocket hit them as they were escaping.

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