BEIRUT, Lebanon — Gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad swept through a mainly Sunni farming village in central Syria this week, torching homes and killing more than 100 people, including women and children, opposition activists said Thursday.
The reported slayings fueled accusations that pro-government militiamen are trying to drive majority Sunnis out of areas near main routes to the coast to ensure control of an Alawite enclave as the country's civil war increasingly takes on sectarian overtones.
Activists said the attackers were from nearby areas dominated by Shiite Muslims and allied Alawites. Assad and most of his top officials belong to the minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot.
The events in Haswiyeh, an impoverished farming area on the edge of Homs, unfolded Tuesday and Wednesday, but came to light only Thursday as the scale of the killings became apparent.
An amateur video posted online showed veiled women sitting on the floor surrounded by children as they described a horrific scene of gunmen killing families and burning bodies.
"We did not fight and we had no gunmen," a woman said. "We are workers trying to make a living."
A Syrian official in Damascus denied the killings. But the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan reported Thursday that Syrian troops advanced in the countryside of Homs "cleansing the villages of Haswiyeh and Dweir as well as their fields" from gunmen.
U.S. addresses chemical arsenal: The Obama administration has quietly arranged for thousands of chemical protective suits to be sent to Jordan and Turkey and is pressing military forces there to take main responsibility for safeguarding Syrian chemical weapons sites if the country's lethal nerve agents suddenly become vulnerable, the Center for Public Integrity reported Thursday.
Washington is talking with Iraq and Russia, as well as Jordan and Turkey, about the potential removal of the arsenal and its destruction elsewhere should the regime fall.
Information from McClatchy Tribune was used in this report.