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Alawite civilians 'killed in homes' in opposition attack on Hama village

At least 19 members of minority sect shot dead and others kidnapped in assault by Ahrar al-Sham, Nusra Front and allies, monitor says
Syrians react to the arrival of a Russian military convoy in a small village near the city of Hama on 4 May 4 (AFP)

Syrian opposition fighters from groups including Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have shot dead 19 civilians from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority in their own homes after seizing a village in central Syria, a monitor said on Friday.

Other villagers were kidnapped following the assault in which eight pro-government militiamen were killed trying to defend Al-Zara in Hama province, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"During the attack, they entered houses and opened fire on families, killing at least 19 civilians, including six women," said observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The observatory listed the groups involved in the attack as Ahrar al-Sham, the Nusra Front, Ahl al-Sunna battalions, the Homs Corps and Ajnad Hom.

It said the killings had not been carried out as executions but had occurred as fighters stormed the homes of those killed.

Images on social media showed two fighters alleged to be affiliated to Ahrar al-Sham standing over three bodies in a blood-stained room.

State news agency SANA condemned the "massacre" of villagers in Hama, which like neighbouring Homs province is mainly Sunni but has a significant Alawite minority.

"Terrorist groups infiltrated Al-Zara and carried out a massacre as well as destruction and pillage," it reported.

The observatory said that at least 10 air strikes took place in the area earlier on Friday.

In recent days Russian soldiers, who have been supporting Syrian government forces, have been pictured on patrol in villages around Hama city.

The five-year civil war in Syria has enflamed sectarian resentment between the country's Sunni majority and Assad's Alawite minority.

The Alawites - followers of an offshoot of Shia Islam who are mainly concentrated in the Mediterranean coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus - are considered heretics by some Sunni Muslims.

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