Syrian troops backed by tanks killed at least five civilians, torched homes and looted shops when they overran a rebellious Sunni Muslim farming village Sunday, as tensions from the 14-month-old uprising also spilled into neighboring Lebanon.
Sunday’s raid against the impoverished village of al-Tamana, 55 kilometers northwest of Hama, cast further doubt on the viability of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end the bloody conflict peacefully.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Tamana was “subjected to collective punishment” with “over half of its houses burned, several people executed [upon arrest] and the rest killed from bombardment.”
The watchdog group said at least 25 people – 18 civilians, five soldiers and two anti-government rebels – were killed Sunday as violence ripped through various Syrian flashpoint areas.
Opposition activists said al-Tamana had seen regular anti-government protests. The village was one of dozens of Sunni settlements torched since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces seized control of the cities of Homs and Hama.
Residents of the nearby Alawite village of al-Aziziyeh, a recruiting ground for the loyalist Shabbiha militia, took part in a separate assault on al-Tamana Friday.
Syria’s Sunni majority is at the forefront of the uprising against Mr. Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
In a sign the sectarian tension threatens to spill over into Lebanon, three people were killed early Sunday when gunbattles broke out in an Alawite enclave and surrounding Sunni neighborhoods of the northern port city of Tripoli.
Lebanon is sharply split along sectarian lines, with 18 religious sects. But it also has a fragile political fault line precisely over the issue of Syria.
An array of pro-Syrian parties support Mr. Assad’s government, as do many Lebanese citizens. Others oppose the Syrian leader and accuse Damascus of heavy-handed meddling in Lebanese affairs.
Violence by Mr. Assad’s forces and his increasingly armed foes has continued despite an April 12 cease-fire declared by Mr. Annan and the presence of a U.N. monitoring mission now with about 150 observers on the ground.
In another development Sunday, two Turkish journalists who had been detained in Syria for two months arrived in Istanbul on a plane from Iran, after Tehran helped negotiate their release.
Reporters Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun were abducted by pro-government militiamen and handed over to Syrian intelligence, which held them separately in a Damascus prison. The two men said they feared they would die after spending 55 days isolated in cramped concrete cells.