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.
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 long-serving unpopular leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Members of Syria's opposition said the bloodshed outside the village of Kfar Owaid, about 30 miles from the northern border with Turkey in Idlib province, was evidence of the authoritarian leader's intent to intensify its crackdown on the uprising before Arab League observers arrive in the country today. The death toll from two days of violence this week topped 200, including up to 70 army defectors killed near the city of Idlib, the activists said.
"It was an organized massacre," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group. "The troops surrounded people, then killed them."
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 anti-government protests.
One Kfar Owaid villager who is an anti-government activist told the Associated Press 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 anti-regime 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 on Wednesday. Others were buried in nearby villages.
Syrian officials have not commented on the allegations.