At least 30 people died in several incidents in Syria’s second largest city Homs over the last weekend. Part of the deaths resulted from clashes between members of the Sunni branch of Islam and Alawites.
Sectarian violence occurred for the first time in four months of unrest in Syria in the city of Homs, 120km north of Damascus. The New York Times reports that at least six members of the Alawite branch of Islam were killed during the weekend, three of the dead were discovered on Sunday by residents, their bodies mutilated and dumped in a deserted area in Homs.
The majority of Syrians are Sunni muslims but Alawites form the largest religious minority in Syria with 1.4 million members. Alawites are considered a branch of Shia Islam, although some Sunni clerics deny that Alawites are Muslims at all. Today most members of this religion live in Lebanon and Syria, were the ruling family Assad are the most prominent.
Gradually, after Hafiz al-Assad came to power in Syria in 1970, Alawites took over many of the top positions in military and intelligence. Now many of the plainclothes security officials, that helped to quell the unrest in the country, are Alawites as well, resulting in growing resentment of the 74% Sunni majority against the Alawites.
A local resident describes that after the mutilated bodies of the three armed government loyalists were discovered, Alawites went on a rampage, killing three people and destroying a number of shops in the city. Reuters quotes a human-rights activist as saying “These clashes are very dangerous”, because of the sectarian undertones. Syria is not only a multi-religious society but a multi-ethnic one as well – Turks and Kurds are two of the more prominent minorities – and if fights between the various religious and ethnic groups would erupt the result would be a lot more bloodshed.
While Syrians take to the streets by the thousands, the EU imposed sanctions and the country is on the verge of civil war, the official Syrian state news agency SANA reports among its ‘latest news’ on the front page an enthusiastic article about a motor show!