A pro-regime militia Monday night shot dead seven mediators sent to Homs province to rebuild ties in communities torn apart by the civil war's bloody sectarian rift between President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite-led regime and Sunni rebels.
"Seven men belonging to a reconciliation committee, including two retired officers and the imam of a mosque in the town of Zara... were killed yesterday by members of the People's Committee," The Syrian Observatory for Human rights said, referring to a pro-regime militia, or "shabiha."
The seven men, reported dead in a video given to the Observatory, were part of a government authorized National Reconciliation Committee, a group meant to help build relations in a conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions.
"The Alawite militias ambushed the men, who are Sunnis, when they arrived in a nearby town to try to start talks. They began to suspect the team was secretly working with the rebels, because Qameira was hit with a surprise attack last week, and many soldiers were killed," one Homs resident told Reuters.
Homs is a strategic city that has suffered intense fighting during the war, and violence has increased there as Assad's troops attempt to divide the rebels in the north and link regime forces from Damascus to his Mediterranean coastal strongholds.