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100 killed in Syrian massacre

Troops assault fleeing civilians; observers due to arrive today

Anti-government protesters carried coffins during the funeral of protesters killed in earlier clashes in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

REUTERS

Anti-government protesters yesterday carried coffins during the funeral of protesters killed in earlier clashes in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

BEIRUT — As government troops advanced on a village in northwestern Syria, activists say, the terrified residents fled into a valley for fear of being arrested or worse. What happened next, one of the activists said, was “an organized massacre.’’

The troops surrounded the valley and unleashed a barrage of rockets, tank shells, bombs, and gunfire in an hours-long assault, according to two human rights groups and a witness, killing more than 100 people and leaving no survivors in one of the bloodiest days of a crackdown by President Bashar Assad against a nine-month popular uprising.

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Members of Syria’s opposition said the bloodshed outside the village of Kfar Owaid, about 30 miles from the northern border with Turkey, was evidence of the authoritarian leader’s intent to intensify the crackdown before Arab League observers arrive in the country today.

The death toll from two days of violence this week passed 200, including up to 70 army defectors killed near the city of Idlib, the activists said.

The White House said it was “deeply disturbed’’ by Tuesday’s attack, France called it a “murderous spiral,’’ and the Arab League reminded the Assad regime of its responsibilities to protect its civilians.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died since March as Syria has sought to put down the uprising — part of the Arab Spring of protests that has toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Kfar Owaid is part of the rugged mountainous region of Jabal al-Zawiyah, the scene of clashes between troops and army defectors, as well as weeks of intense antigovernment protests.

One Kfar Owaid villager who is an antigovernment activist said by telephone that scores of residents and activists had fled to the nearby Budnaya Valley ahead of the advancing troops. He said the security forces had lists of names of those who organized massive antiregime protests recently in the village.

Those who fled to the valley were completely surrounded by troops, said the activist, who identified himself only as Abu Rabih for fear of government reprisal. The troops then opened fire with tanks, rockets, and heavy machine guns, he said, adding that they also used bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties.

He said 110 people were killed in the attack, with 56 of them buried in Kfar Owaid yesterday. Others were buried in nearby villages.

“It was an organized massacre,’’ said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group. Abdul-Rahman corroborated the Kfar Owaid witness account. His group, which uses a network of local activists to collect information on the crackdown, said 111 people from the village were killed Tuesday. All of those in the valley were civilians and activists, with no armed military defectors among them, the groups said.

Syrian officials have not commented on the accusations.

On Monday, Assad agreed to allow foreign monitors into Syria under an Arab League plan aimed at stopping the bloodshed. The huge toll since then has reinforced opposition suspicions that Assad is trying to stall before a new round of international condemnation and sanctions. His regime has been isolated and under pressure from the Arab world and the West.

The Obama administration reacted to the latest reports by renewing its call for Assad to step down, saying he “does not deserve to rule Syria.’’

“The United States is deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process,’’ the White House said in a statement read by a spokesman, Jay Carney, warning that the international community could take more steps against Syria.

A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, added that the violence signaled that Syria’s acceptance of the Arab League plan is a stalling tactic.

“This is not the behavior of a government that is getting ready to implement the Arab League proposals,’’ she said, adding later that: “We’ve got lots of promises as the government continues to mow down its own people.’’

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