Syrian government officials are condemning what they call a “massacre” in the eastern village of Hatla in Deir Azzor. The pro-rebel Syrian Observatory confirmed the incident, saying at least 60 Shi’ites were killed in the rebel offensive against the Shi’ite part of the village.
Rebels disputed the “massacre” aspect of the deaths, saying that the bulk of the killings were of members of a Shi’ite militia that they considered “pro-government.” Video also showed rebels burning homes in the Shi’ite neighborhood.
The killings and the subsequent destruction of the neighborhood led to celebrations among Sunni Islamist rebels, reflecting the growing sectarian divide in Syria and the increasingly religious tone of the civil war.
Though predominantly Sunni, Syria has for centuries had a large number of religious minorities, including significant Shi’ite, Druze, and Christian populations. The various religions had mostly lived peacefully side-by-side until the recent civil war broke out.