DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Gunmen shot dead 11 people, mostly Christians, near a town in central Syria on Saturday, state media and activists said, an attack described by a local resident as aimed at members of the religious minority.
The resident, citing eyewitnesses, told The Associated Press that the gunmen randomly opened fire on roadside restaurants in a drive-by shooting outside Ein al-Ajouz as Christians were celebrating a feast day. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The state-run SANA news agency described the attack as a “massacre” and said women and children were among the dead.
Activists however said that many of those killed were pro-government militiamen manning checkpoints.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that nine of those killed were Christians. It said rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad attacked checkpoints manned by the pro-government National Defense Forces militia, killing five of them. It said the other six were civilians, including two women.
A Facebook page run by pro-government activists in the area said a checkpoint was targeted and six civilians and five pro-government militiamen were killed. It posted portraits of five “martyrs” from the militia wearing military fatigues, saying the attackers came from the nearby rebel-held town of al-Hosn where extremist rebel groups are known to operate.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, say they are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22 million people.