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Syrians Flee Banias Region After Army Assault, Rights Group Says


Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa province, eastern Syria May 3, 2013. Picture taken May 3, 2013. Photo - Reuters

Banias: Residents are fleeing the Syrian city of Banias on the Mediterranean coast after 62 people were killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"There has been large-scale migration out of the southern neighborhoods of Banias since dawn today," the Coventry, England-based Syrian Observatory said on its Facebook page today.

"Fears of being massacred for sectarian reasons by the pro-regime local militia" are prompting the exodus after the bodies of at least 14 children were found in the city, the group said in an e-mailed statement.

The two-year Syrian conflict has left more than 70,000 people dead, and the United Nations estimates about one million refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries. The fighting has evolved largely along sectarian lines, with many in the Sunni majority supporting the rebels while al-Assad draws support mainly from his Alawite community.

In al-Baida, at least 51 people "were summarily executed" after the Syrian army, backed by Shabiha militiamen, rampaged through the the coastal village, the Syrian Observatory said yesterday on its Facebook page. "Some were shot to death, others were killed by knives, blunt objects or burning," it said. The opposition Local Coordination Committee said yesterday on its Facebook page that army forces rounded up and executed villagers before setting the bodies on fire.

"The U.S. is appalled by horrific reports that more than 100 people were killed May 2 in gruesome attacks on the coastal town of al-Baida," U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mailed statement today. "Regime and Shabiha forces reportedly destroyed the area with mortar fire then stormed the town and executed entire families, including women and children."

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