Fighters from an al Qaeda-linked rebel group killed 12 members of the minority Alawite sect in central Syria after seizing their village, an opposition monitoring group said on Wednesday.
Alawites are an offshoot sect of Shi'ite Islam and have been increasingly targeted by radical fighters among the Sunni Muslim-dominated opposition in the 2-1/2 year revolt against President Bashar Assad, himself an Alawite.
Under four decades of Assad family rule, Alawites have made up most of the political and military elite in Syria. The rise of hardline Islamists in the rebellion and the possibility of major attacks on minorities like Alawites have contributed to a Western hesitancy to intervene directly in the conflict.
The latest killings occurred after rebels of the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, stormed the village of Maksar al-Hesan east of the city of Homs on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.