US says Syrians must be held accountable for massacre
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US says Syrians must be held accountable for massacre

Over 100 executed in Banias area town; rebel forces capture part of air base in northern part of country

AP — The White House said it is “horrified” by reports that more than 100 people were executed Thursday in a western Syrian town.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said those responsible for serious human rights and international law violations must be held accountable.

The State Department cited reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and pro-government forces destroyed Bayda, Syria, with mortar fire, then stormed the town, executing entire families.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 4,000 people were fleeing from the predominantly Sunni southern parts of the area of Banias amid fears that pro-government gunmen “might commit a massacre.”

There were conflicting reports of the death toll in the Banias area on Friday. The Observatory said at least 62 people, including 14 children, were killed in Ras al-Nabeh, a neighborhood in Banias, but that the number could rise as many people are still missing. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 102 people were killed.

Fighting in Syria has shown few signs of letting up after two years of civil war in which over 70,000 have been killed and over a million have fled the country.

Anti-Assad rebels occupied parts of a military air base in northern Syria on Sunday after days of fighting with government troops who have been defending the sprawling position for months, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels moved deep inside Mannagh air base, near the border with Turkey, despite fire from government warplanes. The Aleppo Media Center said rebels captured a tank unit inside the base and that the base commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud, was killed.

The fighting came hours after Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.

In this citizen journalism image released on Thursday, May 2, 2013 by a group that calls itself The Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad, a Syrian man, center, identifies dead bodies who were killed according to activists by Syrian forces loyal to Bashar Assad, in Bayda, outside the coastal city of Banias, Syria. (Photo credit: AP/The Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad)
In this citizen journalism image released on Thursday, May 2, 2013 by a group that calls itself The Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad, a Syrian man, center, identifies dead bodies who were killed according to activists by Syrian forces loyal to Bashar Assad, in Bayda, outside the coastal city of Banias, Syria. (photo credit: AP/The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad)

The attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in Syria’s civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.

Rebels have launched a wave of attacks on military air bases around the country in the past months in an attempt to deprive the army of a key weapon used to target anti-government forces.

Rebels have been trying to capture Mannagh air base for months but were only able to take small parts of it. The sprawling base has been under siege since last year.

The Observatory said rebels also fired mortar rounds at the Abu Zuhour air base in northwestern Idlib province. It did not say if there were casualties.

The Observatory also reported heavy fighting inside the contested town of Qusair near the Lebanese border. Troops captured several villages and towns surrounding Qusair in the past month.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said Syrian warplanes bombarded the northern Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun. It also reported air raids on the northern province of Raqq and the eastern region of Deir el-Zour.

The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime in March 2011, but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people according to the United Nations.

Earnest spoke with reporters aboard Air Force One in flight from Washington to Columbus, Ohio. He would not comment on Israel’s overnight strike on Damascus.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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