Bodies lie in the streets of the Syrian town of Tel Kelakh after black-clad gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad moved in to crush unrest, refugees who fled into Lebanon say.
Speaking to Reuters after escaping their town, they said the assault began after residents of Tel Kelakh held protests on Friday calling for Assad's overthrow.
On Saturday, at least 10 buses arrived carrying security troops including Assad's irregulars, known as "shabbiha", wearing black clothes with red armbands. By Sunday, tanks surrounded the town and shelling started, residents said.
"Tanks and snipers fired haphazardly. They destroyed my house. They destroyed the water tank. The streets are flooded with water and dead bodies," said Omar, a carpenter who walked for 3-1/2 hours with his wife and one-year-old twins to the Lebanese border town of Boqaya on Sunday.
"I wouldn't dare go back. Everyone who manages to escape thanks God a hundred times," said Omar, who was staying at a home with dozens of other refugees from Tel Kelakh, some of whom said they were shot at as they crossed the border.
Residents of the town said they could not count the corpses in the streets because when they left their homes they were fired on.
Umm Ahmed, a mother of three who said she was hiding in the basement of a house in the besieged town with seven other families, told Reuters by telephone that electricity had been cut and entry and exit points to the town were all blocked.
"One man was wounded in the stomach and back. We couldn't do anything for him but give him some water. He died in our hands. We can't bury him and his smell is overpowering," she said.
The international media has largely been banned from reporting in Syria since the unrest began against Assad in mid-March, making it difficult to corroborate witness accounts.
All the residents Reuters spoke to said Assad's forces were targeting Sunni Muslims. Some said they were checking identity cards to look for people from Tel Kelakh or nearby Sunni Muslim villages.
Tel Kelakh, which is mainly Sunni, lies in a valley, surrounded by Alawite villages and a few Sunni villages. Assad and most of the ruling elite are Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shi'ite Islam.
Security forces, whose senior figures are mainly Alawite, have cracked down on flashpoints of unrest, many of which are predominantly Sunni Muslim, including Deraa in the south, Banias on the coast and now Tel Kelakh.
"The number of shots fired (in Tel Kelakh) would have been enough to liberate the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms," said one resident, referring to areas occupied by Syria's old enemy Israel.
Syrian rights groups say at least 700 civilians have been killed in the violence nationwide, which the government blames on infiltrators and terrorists supported by Islamists and outside powers. It says 120 soldiers and police have been killed.
"What did they (the protesters) ask for except freedom? Bashar acts likes he's the God over people and now he wants to exact revenge," said Rehab, who lives in the Lebanese border village of Debbabiyeh and whose brother died in Tel Kelakh early on Monday.
"Oh God, burn Bashar and Maher, the way they burned us," she screamed. Maher is Assad's brother and commander of the 4th regiment which has led many of the crackdowns.
"May God kill those who killed my father," said Monya, the young daughter of Rehab's dead brother. "I will seek revenge in his honour. One day, you'll see."
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